Number of cases involving guns in Butler County
Source: Butler County Prosecutor’s Office
An initiative to deter repeat gun offenders in Butler County could be more costly to prosecute, but officials said the added cost is justified.
Butler County is one of two counties in the state to join the Project Safe Neighborhood program, which will send eligible criminal cases involving guns to federal court for prosecution.
Sending cases to the federal level will allow prosecutors to ask for stiffer penalties. The goal is increased federal prosecution to stop chronic violent offenders and deter potential gun offenders, according to Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Springer said a weapons under disability charge would yield no more than three years behind bars at the state level, whereas a career criminal, with prior convictions for violent or drug crimes and multiple charges would face a mandatory minimum of 15 years.
“We are targeting individuals who have significant criminal histories,” Springer said. “The Project Safe Neighborhood mission is to detect the worst of the worst, identify the worst of the worst, and prosecute them under federal laws regarding firearms charges.”
Researchers with the National Institute of Justice analyzed violent crime statistics in cities with populations greater than 100,000. Comparing 82 cities under the program to 170 cities that did not implement it, they found a 4.1-percent decline in violent crime in cities where it was implemented compared to a 0.9-percent decline in cities where it was not.
Springer said there must be “interstate nexus” for a gun case to be prosecuted federally. Some guns are manufactured in Ohio, but ammunition is not, so if a person has a loaded gun, Springer can take the case.
Gmoser sent his first case to Springer this summer and Assistant Prosecutor Greg Stephens has been working at the federal court in Cincinnati since February. Stephens is helping handle gun cases in the federal court for a year.
Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said he has some concerns about the new arrangement. He said there is a chance for a person to face two trials stemming from one criminal event.
“You prosecute the drugs in state court and the guns in federal court instead of as one case,” he said. “It ultimately means that we the taxpayers are paying for two cases when it’s really just one. One of them is being paid for at the federal level, with our tax money and one at the state level with our tax money. It was all one event.”
Gmoser said getting career criminals off the streets is worth the expense.
“If this gets career criminals out of society and locked up where they cannot involve good citizens with their criminality, the cost is well justified,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. If the defense bar wants to complain about taxpayer expense, I complain about criminals engaging in crime and affecting victims in the state. I think it’s a fair trade.”
Young also questioned the expenditure of local funds to pay Stephens’ salary while he works for the federal court.Stephens has been working at the federal court in Cincinnati since February. Stephens is helping handle gun cases in the federal court for a year.
“We’re using state money to provide services for the much richer federal government,” he said. “We’ve got cash strapped counties that are screaming for money. Like most things it flows downhill and the feds have the most money.”
Gmoser said he received a federal grant to cover Stephens’ $59,580 salary.
Middletown Police Lt. Scott Reeve said his department has had cases go to the federal cases, mostly involving drugs. Having the task force focused on these cases is “awesome” he said. Now when they make felony arrests involving guns, they will give Gmoser’s office a heads up so they can start preparing.
Hamilton Police Lt. Carl Sigmon said they have an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agent assigned to the police department so they have been sending cases to the federal courts for years. This new focus he said should result in safer streets.
“I think what the prosecutor is wanting to target too is people that are using weapons, which is more danger to the public than the average person committing petty thefts and things like that,” he said. “We’re trying to target the career criminals and the ones that are more dangerous because they are using firearms.”
Springer wants to grow the Project Safe Neighborhood program to eventually include all the counties — approximately 44 — in the Southern District.
“Even if we don’t necessarily establish special assistants in those counties, we would still like to open a line of communication with our ATF and our federal agencies, so that we can still be a feeder for those cases from those jurisdictions,” Springer said.