Local law enforcement agencies will be teaming up with federal prosecutors and state and federal law organizations that will target violent crime in Garden City and Wichita.

That announcement came Thursday morning by U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister in a press conference held in Wichita for a program titled Project Safe Neighborhoods.

William Votypka, Deputy Finney County Attorney, attended the press conference on behalf of the office, which will be involved in the new program.

“It’s a great, great opportunity for collaboration with state and federal authorities,” Votypka said in a telephone interview. “It’s a greater financial mechanism with other agencies and gives us more avenues to deal with violent crime in our area.”

The Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative will prioritize federal prosecutions of repeat offenders and convicted criminals who carry firearms in the two cities, where violent crime rates are higher than average for Kansas.

“Violent crime rates are on the rise in both cities,” McAllister said. “By working together, we can size up the problems and concentrate our resources where we get the best results. Our goal is to make both communities safer.”

Drug trafficking, gang activity and other factors drive violent crime rates and make each city’s problems unique, McAllister said. The PSN program is aimed at directing federal resources – including federal prosecutors as well as investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other agencies – to support the work of local police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys.

Both Garden City and Wichita have reported increased gang activity that fuels violent crime. Law enforcement officials in both cities, McAllister said, have been very receptive to working with the U.S. Attorney’s office on the PSN program. According to the KBI’s most recent report, the violent crime rate for Kansas is 3.7 per 1,000 people. That compares to a rate of 5.1 in Garden City and a rate of 10.6 in Wichita, according to the KBI report, which was based on 2016 figures.

“There’s been a rise in violent crime and we’re appreciative that the U.S. Attorney’s office chose Garden City to be part of this important program,” Votypka said. “Based upon what recent activity, you see it in the police blotter what has been going on with crime in our area.”

In Garden City, PSN prosecutors are targeting gang members, repeat offenders and known drug traffickers, Votypka said. Garden City Police Department also will be part of the PSN Task Force.

McAllister said he recently received authorization from the Justice Department to hire two new federal prosecutors in Kansas to concentrate on violent crime cases. Those prosecutors will work with the PSN 2.0 program, as well as tackle violent crime in Topeka, which also has suffered a surge in violent crimes recently.

Votypka said it was still early to determine how the funding will be distributed and the impact that it could have on additional staffing from local, state and federal agencies.

“We’re seeing more arrests for drug crime and then they have firearms,” Votypka said of drug traffickers. “They want to protect their business and that enhances the violence of the crimes we are seeing. We believe this program will decrease the bad actors, but it certainly won’t eliminate the activity.”

Votypka said he was pleased to be able to attend the press conference as he was able to meet with other groups after the announcement to get more details on how the program will be implemented.

“It’s just going to be an additional avenue to help provide support for Garden City Police Department, the Finney County Sheriff’s Office and Finney County Attorney’s Office,” Votypka said. “It’s nice to know that we’re not out here on an island trying to deal with these issues by ourselves. We’ve got partners who have a vast source of information to help out.

“Right now we’re doing a good job in this area, and we’ve sent a lot of bad guys away, but now it’s nice to know we’ve got additional help.”

The PSN program also calls for prosecutors to work with local communities to prevent crime by supporting programs to engage teenagers in constructive ways that promote respect for law enforcement and steer them away from crime, as well as programs that reduce recidivism.

Contact Brett Marshall at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.