JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Members of the Jefferson Parish Street Crimes unit target the most dangerous criminals in the most dangerous neighborhoods day in and day out. They respond to a large number of calls for service, violent crimes and make a lot of gang-related arrests for illegal drugs.
They're aggressive and part of an elite group inside the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. When Harry Lee was sheriff for almost three decades, he often found himself defending their work and clarifying their targets. Late in his career, Lee apologized to community activists for comments he made about fighting crime and how his deputies patrolled.
"I'm not targeting blacks, I'm targeting bad guys in the black neighborhoods," Lee said.
In 2004, the controversial unit was disbanded when some of the deputies were accused of botching an assault investigation and of using steroids. Their hiatus was short-lived.
In 2006, Sheriff Lee re-activated the rough and tough group, which today is comprised of 15 deputies plus supervisors. Their primary objective remains patrolling high-crime areas. Chief Deputy Craig Taffaro says their mission is clear.
"We have 17 high-crime areas identified by the level of activity, where officers respond at request of district commanders. Sometimes they'll see hand-to-hand drug transactions, and the Street Crimes Unit addresses those things," Taffaro said.
It's a dangerous assignment, evident even before the fatal shooting of Street Crimes Deputy David Michel Jr. Last September, three members of the unit on pro-active patrol were shot at while driving through an area of Marrero known for drug activity. The officers bailed from their car and returned fire. No one was injured.
Just days later, Sheriff Newell Normand announced the arrests of two men, both with extensive criminal histories. He was outraged that his deputies were targeted.
"We've lost our minds here a little bit folks," he said then. "We better redirect and refocus what we're thinking about. And as I said several months ago, you better wake up. You better wake up."
Now, another blow to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, another reminder of the danger officers face on the streets every day.