By WDSU Digital Team | WDSU | October 2, 2020
A new investigative unit within the New Orleans Police Department will aim to combat a more than 60% increase in murders, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said Friday.
The startling uptick in fatal and nonfatal shootings compared to last year reflects a similar increase in cities across the country, the chief said. But it has led him and his No. 2, Deputy Chief John Thomas, to re-evaluate the NOPD’s policing methods.
The new unit, called Violent Crime Abatement Investigative Team, or V-CAIT, will involve partnerships with the FBI and Louisiana State Police.
“To those who are committed to continue to involve themselves in violent criminal activities, just take this as a warning: today is a new day. Today we have a larger umbrella with my state and federal partners in which we will be holding you the criminal, the violent offenders, accountable for your actions,” Ferguson said at a news conference at NOPD headquarters.
Meanwhile, Ferguson said, a specialized unit created in 2016 to combat armed robberies and other violent crimes has been disbanded.
That unit, called the Tactical Intelligence Gathering Enforcement Response unit or TIGER team, was created in 2016 under former Superintendent Michael Harrison. It saw success in driving down armed robberies, according to police observers, and the data reflects that. Despite the uptick in shootings and murders, Ferguson noted Friday, armed robberies were down 5% compared to this time last year.
While acknowledging TIGER did “a great job” investigating armed robberies and other violent crimes, Ferguson said some members will serve on the new V-CAIT unit and others won’t.
“Look at the NFL. Look at the NBA, you look at what you have. Some players won’t be carried to the next season….This is the new season, and we’re going in a different direction, and we’re going with what we think will be best for us in the direction in which we’re going,” he said.
District-based task forces, which were suspended earlier this year after lapses in supervision surfaced publicly, will not return, Ferguson also announced Friday.
Those task forces typically practiced proactive policing, such as stopping suspicious people and checking for warrants, drugs or weapons, and had flexibility to focus on district-specific needs. But monitors overseeing the NOPD’s federal consent decree pointed out this summer that problems with district task forces’ supervision led to improper or constitutionally questionable stops, searches or arrests.
A new two-person team in each district, called a “district community action team,” or D-CAT, will address crime trends or shifting concerns from the community, Ferguson said. Their goal will be to “develop community partnerships and perform constitutional policing while trying to suppress crime.” This new effort will require support from community members the districts serve, he said.
The new initiatives, which focus on data-driven investigations, demonstrate that policing must “mature,” Ferguson said.
The new V-CAIT unit resembles Superintendent Ronal Serpas-era unit called the Multiagency Gang Unit, since they both rely on federal and state partnerships, Ferguson noted.
The Multiagency Gang Unit, or MAG unit, was created in 2012 and resulted in several sweeping indictments that helped break up violent drug gangs or groups in the city. Rafael Goyeneche, leader of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the MAG unit’s work to help put away violent offenders left vacuums in the drug market that new groups are filling up and feuding over.
“I cannot explain to you or tell you why MAG was dismantled because I was not part of that decision process,” Ferguson said. “But I can tell you what I have received from our FBI SAC [special agent in charge] since he has taken over, as well as [Louisiana State Police Superintendent] Col. (Kevin) Reeves, a commitment to help the NOPD any which way that they can.”
Goyeneche says the V-CAIT’s focus on longer term investigations of violent offenders, as opposed to “running out and arresting them on the street,” acknowledges problems with “the old model.”
“It’ll be reimagining and rebranding, but the purpose is to drive down a specific crime problem and the specific crime problem that is catching everyone’s attention and has the police department’s full attention is the violent crime problem: shootings and murders,” Goyeneche said.