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Berkeley County vows to make homes safer

May 01, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - An effort to combat domestic violence and firearms crime in West Virginia through awareness and prosecution was announced Tuesday in front of the U.S. Attorney's Office on East King Street.

Project Safe Homes will focus on firearms and other crimes related to domestic violence, according to Thomas E. Johnston, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.

The effort is part of President George W. Bush's Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide, comprehensive firearms violence and crime reduction strategy.

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Johnston said guns are involved in more than one-third of the one million violent crimes committed annually.

Licensed domestic violence programs in the state served about 18,000 victims in 2000-2001 with one-third of those victims claiming firearms were involved, said Ann Smith, executive director of Shenandoah Women's Center and co-chair of the W.Va. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

She said 44 percent of homicides in the state are related to domestic violence.

"Homes should be a safe haven from the cares of the world, a place where children are nurtured and families live free from violence. Women should not be terrorized and brutalized in their own homes. Children should not have to watch and hear their mothers being beaten or suffer beating themselves," Johnston said.

"Domestic violence is a blight on the culture of West Virginia," he said.

Dealing with domestic violence is a major focus of the project but reducing other types of firearms crime and violence is also a top priority, Johnston said.

He said in the four branches of the U.S. Attorney's office in West Virginia he has designated at least one prosecutor to be the firearms prosecutor for that office.

Task forces have been formed to attack the problem of firearms crime and domestic violence on a coordinated basis, he said.

The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and the Martinsburg Police Department are participating in the Eastern Panhandle Task Force.

"Criminals only need to remember 'hard time for gun crime,'" said Mark R. Swartswelder, resident agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

Outreach efforts to educate people on the effects of firearm crimes will also be added to the project's objectives and partnerships with county prosecutors will be created so cases will be reviewed and directed for prosecution in the system where the offender will receive the most prison time.

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