Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lang gave a presentation to the Sanford City Council Tuesday night about Project Safe Neighborhoods, a crime fighting initiative which aims to either rehabilitate or lock up repeat violent offenders by taking their cases through federal court.
PSN was put in place locally in 2014, and the U.S. Department of Justice announced in October multiple jail sentences issued through the program. But it’s come before both the Sanford City Council (subscription required) and the Lee County Board of Commissioners (subscription required) recently as the bodies seek to renew the program and hire a staffer to coordinate between city and county government, the court system, and providers of rehabilitative services.
Lang’s presentation appeared at least in part designed to allay concerns brought up earlier in November by City Councilman Chas Post when the council had most recently discussed the hiring of a coordinator. Post said at the time that the program was “inherently racist” and questioned the selection process for inclusion in PSN.
Lang said in his presentation that PSN had been successful in not just removing repeat offenders from the streets, but also in putting people on a better path.
“Out of a field that eight out of 10 (PSN participants) continued to commit felonies, I’ve been informed that 54 percent of all the people we’ve worked down here have not been re-arrested,” he said. “This is a partnership-based, data-driven, violence reduction strategy.”
Lang said the project has also been a success in multiple other communities, including in Rowan, Alamance, Rockingham, and Cabarrus counties, the last of which he said has seen a 64 percent reduction in crimes such as aggravated assault and robbery with a firearm since 2007.
Post said Tuesday night that he could support PSN if it were implemented as presented, but he still worried about the selection process.
“I think Project Safe Neighborhoods could work if it is applied fairly across the board using specific metrics for inclusion,” he said. “African Americans and other minorities were disproportionately affected by federal prosecutions last time around. I believe however that can change if we use an objective and transparent selection process.”
Post also expressed concerns about whether the rehabilitative programs PSN touts have been as available as advertised.
“Can anyone name one rehabilitative program … that was set up and offered to PSN offenders the last time we implemented the initiative?” he asked. “You can’t, because it did not happen. Not one rehabilitative program or community resource was set up or offered despite a promise that they would be. I hope that changes this time around.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Wyhof Salmon said she shared some of Post’s concerns and hoped that hiring a PSN coordinator would address that.
“I think the missing piece might have been that we didn’t have this coordinator,” she said. “One tool alone is going to end up with that result – just locking people up. We need a comprehensive program and I’m hoping this coordinator can facilitate that.”
Councilman Byron Buckels said he appreciated a discussion about African Americans being disproportionately impacted, but also that the African American community has been eager to see crime addressed head on.
“On PSN, I supported it in 2014, and I support it also today,” he said. “The (people) I know and represent, they want the streets cleaned up. Who would want 10 percent of the population messing up for the other 90 percent?”
Mayor Chet Mann said he thought the program had been effective and would continue to be.
“I think this community is poised to say that if you’re going to use a gun to commit a crime, we don’t want you here,” he said. “But if you want to go the other way, our community is going to step up.”
The council didn’t vote on the measure Tuesday night. The Lee County Board of Commissioners are expected to do so in December.