The U.S. Justice Department will deputize state prosecutors in four Western Pennsylvania counties to help prosecute cases of illegal weapons in the hands of gang members and drug dealers, reports the Associated Press. Four assistant district attorneys in Erie, New Castle, Ebensburg and Washington, Pa., will be designated as special assistant U.S. attorneys, evaluating local gun cases and referring appropriate ones for federal prosecution. U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the initiative, funded with a grant through the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, is designed to concentrate on cities along major interstates and highways that are the main thoroughfares for moving drugs and guns in Western Pennsylvania.
An effort to prosecute gun crimes across the region in the federal system has long existed, as have partnerships between federal prosecutors and local district attorneys. Deputizing local prosecutors will streamline the process and create what Hickton called a “perimeter” around the region to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. “This is a more strategic approach,” he said. “We recognize that the highways are the arteries for guns and drugs in our district.” The assistant federal prosecutors, who will serve six-month terms, can present cases before federal grand juries. In addition to harsher prison terms in the federal system, federal prisoners can end up incarcerated anywhere far from home, removing them from their criminal support system.