standing Rhode Island State House

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhode Island has seen the number of cases requiring firearms analysis rise exponentially with more than 280 cases falling into backlog over a 13-month period. A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice hopes to bring an end to the logjam.

The Department of Justice on Monday announced that Rhode Island has been selected to receive a $296,966 Project Safe Neighborhoods grant that will be used to hire an examiner to directly address the backlog of firearm-related cases. The funding will be specific to the state’s crime lab, which serves state and municipal law enforcement agencies, the Office of the State Medical Examiner and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office.

“Getting violent criminals and their guns off the street is critical to the safety of our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha, who oversees the District of Rhode Island. “Project Safe Neighborhoods leverages federal and state law enforcement partnerships, data, and resources to do just that. This grant, which will help our Rhode Island partners to quickly move potentially significant evidence through the state crime lab, is a critical part of our efforts.”

According to a press release, the grant aims to address an issue with backlogged cases that first began to build up in April 2020. At the time, officials said there were no active cases waiting for analysis. Pandemic restrictions and other challenges led to a shift in needs, and by May there were more than 280 cases backlogged across the state.

The Project Safe Neighborhoods program serves as a centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. Through the program, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.

As part of this strategy, the Department of Justice focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime, Cunha said.

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