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City creates gang unit to combat crime

New Orleans, La. - Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city's number one priority remains murder reduction, and the strategy to reach that goal is unprecedented for the city of New Orleans.

"We are going to go after groups and gangs and the members of them. We are going to gather evidence and intelligence. We are going to arrest and prosecute at all levels," says Mayor Landrieu

A multi-agency gang unit is now being created.  It will include 6 NOPD officers, along with members of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, state Parole and Probations and the Orleans DA's office.

"I think this is novel for us in New Orleans. It's something I have never seen before," says DA Leon Cannizzaro

The feds are also heavily involved, from the FBI to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Under federal statutes, which can carry tougher penalties, they'll be able to prosecute several individuals at once, under various charges.

"Sometimes just using a basic conspiracy charge, not just to charge one or two people but to charge five, six, seven, eight people in a single indictment to present to a single judge and jury so that the system can get the big picture of the part that each person plays and take out the entire group at a time," says U.S. Attorney Jim Letten

Mayor Landrieu says experts from around the country helped local law enforcement to identify 600 people, mostly young men, who are involved in crime groups or gangs in the city.

"I think it's clear and the evidence reflects that we have at least 39 groups of individuals -- that could be as small as three and as high as 15 who are loosely associated -- that engage in criminal behavior," says Mayor Landrieu.

Before the 600 individuals become a focus for law enforcement, they'll be contacted and given a choice to change their lives.

"We will encourage these young men who have engaged in bad behavior to choose a new path and we have opportunities for that," says Mayor Landrieu.

The city says it's providing social services and the tools needed to help the young men change their lives.

"The other piece of this is, if you choose wrongly then you have a group of people here that while they historically worked together, they are going to work every day, all day long to focus on one thing," says Mayor Landrieu

That one thing, the mayor says, will be to put an end to the crime groups.

Law enforcement will contact the 600 individuals in various ways through social media, billboards and schools.  They're also having face to face meetings with some of them.

A couple of weeks ago, about 50 young men were invited to a meeting at Criminal District Court where local and federal law enforcement gave them a choice to change their lives.  Mayor Landrieu says some of those men have responded in a positive way.

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