By Mike Perlstein | WWL-TV | December 17, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Amid a surge in killings, shootings and carjackings in New Orleans over the past year, the NOPD abruptly changed its crime-fighting tactics, eliminating localized district task forces.

In its place, the department formed a citywide crime-fighting squad known as the Violent Crime Abatement Investigation Team, or VCAIT. The unit, which includes the FBI and State Police, uses technology and intelligence-gathering to focus on repeat violent offenders.

That was two months ago.

At a press conference on Thursday, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said the squad is making progress, announcing the arrest of eight suspects in a single day.

“This is just the beginning of our efforts,” Ferguson said. “There are many more cases that are under investigation by VCAIT as we speak.”

Ferguson said this week’s arrests include suspects booked with armed robbery, auto theft and felon with a firearm. Since the multi-agency squad was formed in October, Ferguson said 11 guns have been seized, 22 search warrants executed and three stolen vehicles recovered.

Local FBI Chief Bryan Vorndran offered a stark warning to criminals.

“We are on our way for you,” he said. “We have formed a strong team. And while your day may not be here right now, if you continue to engage in this activity, we’ll find you.”

But with residents fearful because of nightly reports of robberies and carjackings, some observers are questioning if VCAIT is enough to replace pro-active patrols of hot spots that were dismantled.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit Metropolitan Crime Commission, is among those wondering if the new tactics are sufficient.

“They need to put resources there to pro-actively go out and try to target and identify and apprehend those offenders,” Goyeneche said. “That’s what the police department did successfully over the course of several years. And we stopped doing that.”

All of the law enforcement leaders said a key component to the success of the squad is the willingness of the public to call police with information about perpetrators.

“If you see something, say something,” Vorndran urged.