Good afternoon Chairman Faircloth and distinguished committee members. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. I am a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms currently assigned to the Charlotte Field Division as the Special Agent in Charge for North and South Carolina. I would like to discuss ATF's response to the burning of houses of worship. The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 has greatly assisted our efforts in addressing these acts of violence by re-invigorating co-operative enforcement efforts and encouraging a more proactive community relations program related to these heinous attacks. The creation of the National Church Arson Task Force, additional appropriations to support enforcement efforts, and arson prevention programs, have all been key components in our successes-.
As you know, President Clinton established the National Church Arson Task Force to oversee the investigative activity and prosecutions of those responsible for the destruction of houses of worship. At the Federal level, this task force has harnessed the expertise of both the Departments of the Treasury and Justice. Protocols have been established in which all investigative information is forwarded to the Task Force for national coordination. Investigative activities are reviewed for prosecutive merit as well as to identify any possible regional or national conspiracies. This combination of Treasury and Justice resources is a major factor in the success of-our investigations nationwide.
The successful investigative activity in North and South Carolina is a shining example of this co-operative effort on a more localized level. Combined with the expertise of organizations such as the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, we have stood in unison in our collective response to the scene of every church fire. And just as essential, every stage of investigative activity is coordinated with each local, city, or county law enforcement or fire service agency that has been affected. From the inception of the investigation through its conclusion, unity in purpose and cohesiveness is as indispensable as is every piece of evidence that is sifted and examined. Likewise, the success of any investigation is a success that is shared with each individual and agency that has participated. Because of the cooperative efforts of everyone throughout law enforcement and the fire service, we are extremely proud to report that the current rate for solving church fires investigated in North Carolina is 50 percent, and in South Carolina, it is 52 percent.
Based on our extensive experiences in the Carolinas, we have observed that the immediate response of a maximum number of investigative personnel to the fire scene greatly enhances our chances of successfully concluding the investigation. The Church Arson Prevention Act has given us valuable resources with which to concentrate our enforcement efforts in those areas that have been affected most, thus facilitating our ability to effectively investigate these deplorable acts against houses of worship.
Through ATF's joint outreach activities in partnership with H.U.D. , F.E.M.A., F.B.I., D.O.J. (Community Relations Service), the Congress of National Black Churches and the National Council of Churches, we are insuring that all affected houses of worship are being made aware of the availability of a variety of Federal resources. In the summer of 1996, during an intense period of church fire activity, various outreach initiatives such as those in Durham, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina, were conducted targeting a diversity of religious groups. I have visited with the congregations of every house of worship that was a victim of fires. These outreach efforts helped significantly to bridge the communication gap between local communities and government, at both the State and Federal levels. These programs combined the dissemination of information regarding the availability of financial assistance, along with an explanation of how we go about our business of investigating fires. They also made each community an active partner in assisting us during the investigation of church fires, and charged them to become active participants in the prevention process.
In addition to national efforts, both North Carolina and South Carolina have established task forces to address the underlying issues of racial or religious violence and intimidation. The City of Charlotte, North Carolina, has been named one of four cities to participate in a pilot program for the President's National Arson Prevention Initiative. Through partnerships between government entities and the community, various initiatives to prevent arson are being implemented. Along with the North Carolina Task Force on Racial or Religious Violence and Intimidation, our office is actively involved in this local venture.
Again, I would like to stress that successes enjoyed in solving church fire incidents are solidly based in true and honest cooperation between all law enforcement and fire service agencies and with the congregations that were victimized by these fires.
I welcome any questions you may have for me at this time.
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