Over the past several months following the election of President Donald Trump and the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Project Exile has received a lot of attention.
Specifically, the administration has recognized that Project Exile, which relies upon coordinated strategies that bring together all levels of law enforcement to reduce gun crime and make our cities safer, ought to serve as a model for combatting violent crime in cities across America. We in the Rochester community have the longest running and one of the most successful Project Exiles in the country, and we should be very proud of all that has been accomplished.
During the holiday season of 1997, three uniformed Rochester police officers had been shot. Fortunately, none died, but this event shook the community. At that time, the Rochester community was desperately searching for a new way to address the crime and violence that was plaguing our community. Indeed, at that time the homicide rate in Rochester was hovering around 70 homicides a year, which gave us the distinction of having the highest per capita homicide rate of any city in New York state.
In trying to find what our community could do to help to deal with the proliferation of illegal guns in our community and the homicide issue, Rochester’s mayor at the time, together with the Rochester Police Department police chief and the Monroe County district attorney, met with then FBI director Louis Freeh. Freeh mentioned a new program called Project Exile, which was started in Richmond, Virginia, that was having very positive results. A decision was made to give Project Exile a try in Rochester. So, on Sept. 28, 1998, at a press conference at our Federal Building in downtown Rochester, we announced that we would be the second city in the country to implement Project Exile.
In the first year of its implementation, the homicide rate in Rochester went down to a 14-year low. According to statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and RPD, over the past 18 years hundreds of criminals have been exiled and thousands of illegal guns have been removed from the streets of our community, and the homicide rate, while it has fluctuated over the years, has never gone back to what it was before we began Project Exile. It is impossible to know what devastation those guns could have caused in our community if they, along with the criminals who possessed them, were allowed to remain on the streets.
Project Exile is a model for law enforcement cooperation around the country, and I am proud to have served as the chairman of the Project Exile Advisory Board since its implementation. I am even more proud that every month for nearly two decades, members of law enforcement, government and social service agencies, clergy and nongovernment organizations — those who comprise the Project Exile Board — have gathered at the Federal Building for a single, unifying purpose. That purpose is to find new and innovative ways to keep our community safe and a good place to work and raise a family. I am happy to report that nearly 20 years since its start, Project Exile continues to work for Rochester.