NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The day after three men got life sentences for two gang murders, local law enforcement officials say an unprecedented approach is paying off, but there are some challenges ahead.
"Never before in the history of the city have you seen this kind of state local and federal cooperation," said New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison.
"We have put a very serious dent in the gang problem in the city of New Orleans," said Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
After the shock of the 2012 killings that claimed the life of a 5-year-old girl and an innocent bystander, the mayor, and the DA vowed to do something. A a former Sixth District detective, now a commander, had a box filled with info on the 110ers gang, but no resources.
"Then the assistant DA stood up and said, 'give me 20 officers, I'll commit two prosecutors, and we will do something with that box," said Gang Enforcement Commander Frank Young.
With that, the Gang Enforcement Unit was formed, and the multi-agency Gang Task Force came right behind it.
"Since we created this gang unit we've indicted 126 members from 15 different gangs," Harrison said.
And the murder rate dropped from 200 in 2011 to 133 last year. This year's rate up slightly, and now stands at 140.
"You had a three-murder October, so we don't know where we're at," said LSU Health Sciences professor Peter Sharf.
Though most believe the gang enforcement unit has been successful, it has been controversial. It removes officers from regular patrols in a city dealing with manpower and police response issues.
"We've made clear our number one goal is to reduce homicides, and the Street Gang Unit has been instrumental," said Commander Young.
There's also an effort to get high risk offenders on the right path.
"We've held 10 call-ins and 278 have responded, and 75 percent have signed up to get services," Young said.
NOPD manpower problems, are a concern.
"Right now, we had 16 in the Street Gang Unit, we're down to nine, and we started with five in MAG Unit, and now we're down to four," Young said.
But the commander vows to beef up staff and become more efficient as he keeps up the pressure on a gang problem fueling many of the city's murders.
The DA says in addition to eliminating the 110er's gang, they have also taken out the CTC Snake gang, whose members were sentenced this week in federal court.