District Attorney Scott McKee announced Monday his office is teaming with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal agents in the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program.

The program is designed to combine the resources of state and federal law enforcement and prosecution so illegal possession or use of a firearm is the fastest and most dependable route to long term incarceration. The program also focuses on aggressive prosecution of drug crimes where a firearm is involved.

“I want drug dealers and violent criminals off the streets and behind bars and that is what this program is all about,” McKee said. “Project Safe Neighborhoods has been around since 2001, but Henderson County never participated. One of my first goals after taking office was to ask for federal help. We asked, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office was thrilled to join forces with us.

“We have seven prosecuting attorneys. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has hundreds. I would say we can’t go wrong with a partnership like that.”

The program allows the District Attorney’s Office to forward cases where a firearm is involved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution under federal law in a federal court. Most federal gun laws provide much more severe penalties than state law, according to McKee. There is also no parole granted to defendants sentenced to federal prison.

McKee has designated First Assistant District Attorney and second in command, Mark Hall, to head the program.

“Mark has a great relationship with the U.S Attorney’s Office and is well versed in federal criminal law,” McKee said.

Hall indicated that he referred two cases to federal authorities the first day and is anticipating more. Hall also stated that the DA’s Office will now work closely with the FBI, DEA and ATF in supplementing local law enforcement’s stepped-up efforts in busting drug dealers and violent criminals.

“Sheriff (Ray) Nutt’s priority on narcotics and focus on quality investigations will really mesh well with federal prosecutors,” Hall said.

President George W. Bush created Project Safe Neighborhoods in 2001 as an aggressive, comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy.

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