June 8th, 2018

The U.S. House of Representatives on June 6 approved U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock’s (R-VA) legislation to help combat gangs, the Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act of 2018, which now advances to the president’s desk for his signature officially making the bill a federal law.

The bill, H.R. 3249, which Rep. Comstock introduced on July 14, 2017, authorizes $50 million annually from fiscal year 2019 until fiscal year 2021 to establish the Project Safe Neighborhoods Block Grant Program within the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, according to the congressional record summary. The new grant program will be designed to foster and improve existing partnerships to create safer neighborhoods through sustained reductions in crimes committed by criminal street gangs and transnational organized crime groups, the summary says.

“Our communities need critical resources to battle violent transnational gangs like MS-13. The Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act will help provide regional gang task forces with the resources necessary to protect our children and neighbors from the criminal activity of dangerous gangs like MS-13,” said Rep. Comstock.

The House voted 394 to 13 to approve H.R. 3249, which was cosponsored by U.S. Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Tom MacArthur (R-NJ). The bipartisan, same-named U.S. Senate version, S. 2703, was introduced on April 18 by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).

Under the bill, 30 percent of the authorized $50 million annual funding for FY 2019 through FY 2021 will go directly to established gang task forces, including the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force in Rep. Comstock’s home state congressional district.

The area served by the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force is experiencing elevated transnational gang activity from those such as MS-13, according to the congresswoman. She said the task force, which is comprised of 13 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, utilizes an anti-gang, three-pronged method that involves education, intervention/prevention, and enforcement to combat the impact of such activity.

“I have seen firsthand the good work that gang task forces can do to remove the gang threats in our community,” said Rep. Comstock. “They are an important tool in crime prevention, and this legislation will make sure they have the tools they need to take on violent gangs like MS-13.”

U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, who oversaw implementation of Project Safe Neighborhoods and led efforts to reduce gun violence and gun-related crimes, supported House passage of H.R. 3249.

“I am proud Congress worked to pass this critical piece of legislation and encourage the President to sign this crime-reduction tool swiftly into law,” said Rep. Brooks.

The Project Safe Neighborhoods Block Grant Program, Brooks explained, will support strategies to reduce violent crimes, such as enforcing gun laws, while also supporting the development of evidence-based prevention initiatives, such as juvenile justice projects, among other provisions.

Other bill supporters thanked Rep. Comstock for her efforts toward getting the proposal approved, including Jay Lanham, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, who said the bill “will provide the Task Force the opportunity to obtain badly needed funding” to continue its work.

“Representative Comstock is intimately aware of the need to focus on these violent, predatory gangs,” Lanham said. “She has always been available to support the Task Force. I commend her for her continued support and leadership in returning funding to the Task Force.”

 

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