New Crime Gun Unit Targets New Orleans-Area Serial Shooters

Nov. 17, 2022
The unit is a joint effort between the New Orleans Police Department, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, ATF and other agencies to quickly match crime gun shell casings to other shootings.

By John Simerman

Source The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

Nabbing serial shooters is the aim of a new law enforcement unit that will embed federal firearms agents with local homicide detectives in the New Orleans area to swiftly match shell casings from crime scenes or seized guns to other shootings.

The new "Crime Gun Unit" will include ATF agents and detectives from the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. Sheriffs offices in St. Tammany, St. Charles and St. John parishes also are joining in the effort.

The unit was announced at a news conference Wednesday by Steven Dettelbach, director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, at the ATF's Metairie office.

"We use forensic science and data analysis, using the crime gun as the clue," Dettelbach said. "This is something that produces actual cases."

ATF agents in the unit will work out of the NOPD's new crime lab. The unit, which began as a pilot program in May, came as the NOPD struggles on its own to respond to a torrid pace of shootings and murders.

The 251 homicides in New Orleans as of Wednesday are more than double the figure for all of 2019. The city's homicide rate in the first half of the year led the nation, according to Jeff Asher, the City Council's public safety data analyst.

Efforts to analyze and chart ballistics links to disparate gun crimes are nothing new to NOPD. Coordination with ATF helped state and federal prosecutors build several sprawling racketeering cases against suspected members of notoriously violent street groups beginning a decade ago.

But those efforts, which focused on linking murders often years in the past, waned amid NOPD reassignments and a decline in murder and other violent crime.

ATF agents already work closely with the NOPD's violent crime squad, Ferguson said. But the federal agency's director described a more robust operation with the new unit.

Dettelbach said the difference now is in the "very high rate of accuracy" with the technology, allowing detectives to work off leads within 48 hours; and a geographical expansion into nearby parishes.

"These are the tools that we have been using, but we need to scale up and use them more aggressively," he said. "We're going to catch shooters who are terrorizing these communities, that we haven't been able to catch as quickly before. We're talking about trigger pullers."

Dettelbach was joined Wednesday by NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson and sheriffs from Jefferson, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. The U.S. Marshal Service also is participating.

"This allows us to expand our ability to address violent crime collectively," Ferguson said.

"Our job in law enforcement is to go and collect evidence. We're not on the scene where most shootings occur," added Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto. "When you have that case where you don't have evidence, it gives us the ability to track that to other homicide or shooting (cases) around."

Officials say the new unit will more swiftly analyze ballistics through the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, a massive database of bullet casing evidence from crime scenes and seized weapons. The analysis is done at a center in Huntsville, Alabama.

"All the weapons we're confiscating, I look forward to getting a quicker turnaround that we're catching people with," said St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre.


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