Gun crimes, drugs, top priorities for western Tennessee’s top federal cop

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a wide-ranging interview, the top federal law enforcement official in the western portion of Tennessee gave his first television interview since taking the helm of the US Attorney’s office in the Western District of Tennessee, talking about issues ranging from violent crime to human trafficking, laying out his list of priorities.

Kevin Ritz was sworn in as US Attorney for Tennessee’s western district in September after being nominated by President Joe Biden in July 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ritz worked in the office for 17 years as an Assistant United States Attorney.

“We need to be proactive,” Ritz said.

He has lots of priorities.

“In the gun violence, we have a lot on our plate,” he said.

Gun violence is an area that includes ‘Glock switches,’ an illegal tool that turns a handgun into a machine gun, profiled by FOX13 Investigates, and being used at a rate Ritz said has only increased during his tenure at the office.

“They’re showing up at an alarming rate. And these are, again, machine guns,” he said. “We have a role to play in what I call the supply side of the gun violence problem.”

According to the Justice Department, Ritz, a Memphian, and product of Memphis City Schools started a narcotics unit in the office, “prosecuting drug, firearm, robbery, carjacking, and other offenses.”

Citing a weekend forum on juvenile crime, Ritz acknowledges the role teens play in crime. Turning to carjackings, which a FOX13 investigation uncovered what sources called a ‘revolving door’ as gangs send kids to commit crimes because a more lenient juvenile justice system means they’re back on the streets faster and with fewer penalties.

One of the tools, Ritz said, is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

“We use statutes like RICO and other federal tools to dismantle some of those violent organizations,” he said.

Ritz was quick to point out the need for a nuanced approach that includes working with communities to determine what causes people to turn to crime.

One specific issue he points to as driving gun crimes, though, is guns being stolen from cars, which he said are turning up at crime scenes.