A week after a ride along with members of the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie returned to Loudoun this morning to unveil his campaign’s package of public safety initiatives.
Flanked by Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman, GOP attorney general nominee John Adams, former attorney general Jerry Kilgore, Del. Randy Minchew (R-10) and other supporters on the courthouse lawn in Leesburg, Gillespie called for the reinstatement of Project Exile, more funding and education for anti-gang efforts, higher pay for law officers, and better documentation of cancer diagnoses among firefighters and other first responders. His platform also includes a review of the commonwealth’s homeland security preparedness, improved cybersecurity and the promise of a comprehensive reform of Virginia’s criminal justice system. Gillespie also said he would oppose efforts to repeal the state’s truth in sentencing policies, saying that “reinstating parole would be the wrong thing for Virginia’s public safety.”
Protesting Democrats formed a backdrop to Gillespie’s press conference, holding anti-Trump and pro-Obamacare signs.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen crime rates increasing in recent years,” he said, citing statistics that murders, robbery, aggravated assault, forcible sex offenses and motor vehicle thefts have increased since 2015. “Our next governor has to do everything he can to ensure that we ensure the safety of the people of Virginia.”
Gillespie said his tour of the area with members of the gang task force to learn more about the activities of MS-13 and other criminal street gangs was “eye-opening.”
“Gangs prey on our most venerable communities and we need to eradicate gang activity everywhere in the commonwealth,” he said.
His anti-gang platform includes designating the attorney general as Virginia’s “Anti-Gang Chief,” securing funding for the regional task force, forcing localities to actively aid in the enforcement of immigration laws, increasing anti-gang education programs in schools and developing alternative educational opportunities for gang members.
In pushing to reinstate Project Exile, Gillespie said the program was cited as a success when employed in 1997 in Richmond to curb the city’s high murder and robbery rates. The program moves the prosecution of illegal gun offenses to federal courts, where tougher mandatory sentencing it imposed—“exiling” offenders to far-off federal prisons. He said the program was launched with bipartisan support and provided a significant deterrent to violent crimes. The program was criticized because of the high percentage of minority offenders.
“Properly executed, Project Exile will improve public safety, reduce gang violence and target the most violent criminals through effective enforcement of existing federal gun laws,” he said.
Adams, former federal prosecutor, said Project Exile was an “unbelievable success.” He noted that among the 140 murder victims in Richmond the year before the program launched, 80 percent were black residents and half had no criminal background. “These were innocent citizens who were being killed.” During the ensuing decade, the murder rate fell to fewer than 50 a year, he said.
Plowman said he was impressed by the details Gillespie is laying out during his campaign.
“It is very refreshing to speak to a candidate that has so much focus on public policy,” he said. “I think that is something that we have been lacking in year’s past with many candidates. They go out there and run without any substance.”