ST. LOUIS (AP) — Federal prosecutions of gun cases have doubled in St. Louis this year as part of an effort to reduce the city's gun violence.
U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 357 gun cases had been charged from January through May, compared to 156 from during the same period last year. His office estimates it will file 618 gun cases by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, which would be nearly double the 319 filed in the previous one.
The cases include carjackings and armed robberies, but they mainly involve felons charged with gun possession, Jensen said.
Though many of these charges could be filed in state court, the federal court system has better resources and programs to help those charged and convicted, he said.
Federal prosecutors are targeting cases that could lead to murder, such as guns linked to drug trafficking and other violent crimes. They are also focusing on a "distressed area" within the city where about 67 percent of homicides and 50 percent of violent crime occur, according to a police spokeswoman.
Homicide rates have decreased by 27.5 percent this year in the "distressed area" and 6 percent in all of St. Louis. Jensen acknowledged crime rates are driven by many factors.
U.S. marshals, federal judges, lawyers and court staff have all been affected by the increase in federal gun prosecutions.
"I don't know if we're able to keep it up," said Lee Lawless, head federal public defender in St. Louis.
Local jails are also filling up, forcing the U.S. Marshals Service to use jails in central and southern Illinois, court officials said.
"Everybody's working weekends and nights," said Scott Anders, chief U.S. Probation officer. "I don't really know how we could do more than we are doing now."