A quarter-century fighting violence on our streets

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Project Exile is a joint initiative between local, state, and federal law enforcement as well as various community organizations that strive to decrease the possession of illegal guns and create a safer Rochester community. It was brought to Rochester in 1998 when the community was desperately searching for a way to combat the crime and violence plaguing the community. Rochester’s homicide rate was hovering around 70 homicides per year, giving Rochester the distinction of having the highest per capita homicide rate of any city in New York State.

I have been pleased to serve as the Chairman of the Project Exile Advisory Board since its implementation. This program has not only taken thousands of illegal guns off the streets but has also created a level of agency cooperation that is unheard of in other cities. We are happy to say that, in Rochester, our law enforcement agencies—whether local or federal—work together to keep our streets as safe as possible.

Each year we host the Project Exile Community Report which gives member agencies a platform to speak to the community about gun violence and to report what their agency has done in the past year to combat the issues that plague our city. Due to the pandemic, it has been four years since the Community Report has taken place. That is why I was so pleased that we were able to host this year’s Project Exile Community Report on November 1st.

The highlight of this year’s breakfast was the honor of hosting and hearing from the Director of the ATF, Steven Dettelbach, who served as our keynote speaker. The Project Exile Advisory Board was thrilled to have him attend thanks to the influence of the local ATF Agent in Charge Michael Curran, and to hear the valuable information he had to share about ATF’s nationwide fight against gun violence. I was delighted to also have Governor Kathy Hochul and her husband, former US Attorney Bill Hochul, attend. I used to work closely with Bill through Project Exile when he was the US Attorney for the western district, and it was great to see them both in person again.

We opened the event with remarks from Governor Hochul and Director Dettelbach, followed by community reports from the FBI, US Attorney’s Office, US Marshals Service, Department of Public Safety, the Rochester Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the State Police and more.

But by far the most memorable moment of the breakfast for me was when Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, presented me with the key to the county, as well as when I was presented with a plaque from Agent Mike Curran on behalf of ATF and RPD.

The Project Exile Advisory Board will resume in December to continue its much-needed work. We hope to see the day when Project Exile is no longer needed.   

Gary Mervis

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