Federal prosecutors narrow in on gun, violent crime in Alaska

U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, Bryan Schroder, outlines federal priorities for fighting Alaska crime on a federal level.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska spoke with media Friday morning, to lay out the vision of his office as it continues to prosecute crime in the city.

Federal prosecutors are working with local police more often, as federal crimes will traditionally carry longer jail sentences than state charges alone. When it comes to that, Bryan Schroder, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, said his office's priority is on violent crime.

"Within violent crime cases, how I would categorize what our priorities are -- I think the easiest way to put that, is that our priority is firearms cases," said Schroder. "We're looking at cases where people, criminals, are doing the most destructive things, which I think they can do with firearms."

With crime on the forefront of recent mayoral campaigns, and consistently among the biggest concerns voiced at town halls statewide, the U.S. Attorney's office is aiming to help grapple with Alaska crime on the city and state levels, as well as federally.

To do this, Schroder said his office is working closely with local and state law enforcement, and communicating new ways to hold criminals accountable on the federal level for crimes that may not normally land on their desk.

To do this, Schroder said, the most common link that helps them prosecute violent or repeat offenders is if a suspect, already arrested by police or troopers for something like a drug charge or vehicle theft, also had a gun with them.

That factor alone will up the stakes, and make it easier for federal prosecutors to get involved.

"We're doing felon in possession cases, which are in many ways targets of opportunity," Schroder said. "APD or troopers pull over somebody, find out they have a felony, and a gun, and we might take those."

"We think the best thing we can do to keep down violent crime is to try to get guns out of the hands of criminals," Schroder said.

Firearms themselves are at the forefront of a national discussion regarding gun laws in the wake of multiple mass shootings across the country.

While Schroder said that felons in possession of firearms, a federal crime, can be pressed in connection with other crimes, their immediate interest isn't simply prosecuting anyone with a gun that is a felon.

Schroder said most of the people they end up charging have handguns, not rifles, and are considered to be more violent.

Though criminals arrested for drugs or car theft on a local level will get those local charges, if the criminal is believed to be violent, the federal prosecutors have the option to add an additional charge on top, upping the potential sentence.

In addition to the felon in possession of a firearm charge, the "interstate commerce" element, a "jurisdictional hook," can also be used to make a local crime also a federal one, and to effectively add jail time.

This works for gun crimes easily, especially with the felon in possession of a firearm charge.

"The gun has to have traveled in interstate or foreign commerce," Schroder said, noting that firearms are almost always shipped in to the state.

Last year, robbers were faced with this charge, after they robbed Caffe D'Arte and Heavenly Cup, as well as fired at pursuing officers before crashing their vehicle.

"In that case, it was a robbery, and the jurisdictional part of that was that we had to find something involved in the robbery that traveled in interstate commerce," Schroder said. "And it just so happened that these were coffee stands, and the coffee beans themselves traveled that way."

As for why that coffee store robbery was met with federal charges, and not every similar robbery, Schroder again pointed to the severity of the crime, the history of the criminals, and one factor which frequently weaves them together - guns.

"They were both people with long criminal histories," Schroder said. "I mean they were bad guys, they were dangerous guys, and we had the ability to put them in jail for a long period of time."

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