Officials announce formation of 'strike force' to target violent crime in Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A week after Baton Rouge hit a new high mark with five shootings in just two hours, law enforcement leaders announced a new initiative Thursday aimed at cracking down on crime.

Federal, state, and local officials held a news conference, unveiling what they are calling a "strike force" to target illegal guns, domestic violence, and drug crimes, all of which they say contribute to the high homicide count.

"Too many decent and hardworking people are living as hostages in their own homes. This isn't right," said Corey Amundson, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Amundson was joined by District Attorney Hillar Moore, as well as representatives from the Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, and Louisiana State Police. Federal law enforcement officials were there as well, including representatives from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice.

As part of the plan, the U.S. Attorney's Office will devote prosecutors to pursuing federal charges against certain criminals. "Filling prisons is not our goal. Our goal is to prevent crime," said Amundson.

Interim BRPD Chief Jonny Dunnam says the threat of federal charges should instill fear in those looking to act out.

"In the federal system, they're usually prosecuted quicker. There's mandatory sentencing where these individuals go to jail, and they don't go to jail here in the state," said Dunnam.

Amundson says the strike force will also pursue drug traffickers, not just drug users, "without apology."

LSP Col. Kevin Reeves describes the strike force as a "continuation of the partnerships that are already in place" between different law enforcement agencies. The 50-person strike force does not bring with it any new manpower. Instead, agencies ranging from BRPD to LSP to the DOJ will devote staff to the program.

Moore warns the results will not be immediate, but he says they will fight crime more intelligently, using data to track down key figures. "Instead of making a small case, let's work on this long term, work on historical issues that we have, and build a case that's going to encompass more people and many more bad acts," said Moore.

As for what tactics the new strike force will use, Amundson provided few details, while also brushing aside a question about possible raids. "We don't want the bad guys to know when we're coming or what we're coming with, but we're coming," he said.

In a statement following the press conference, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome praised the strike force, saying it "sends a strong message to those who terrorize our neighborhoods, threatening to tear apart the families that make up the fabric of our capital city."

Her full statement can be read below:

I am pleased to see the federal government joining our effort with the mutual goal of preventing and reducing violent crime in our community. The announcement made today by Acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson sends a strong message to those who terrorize our neighborhoods, threatening to tear apart the families that make up the fabric of our capital city. I look forward to the collaborative efforts of the Violent Criminal Enterprises Strike Force in apprehending, investigating and bringing to justice criminals who walk our streets. This is a Baton Rouge for our families and those who want peace, prosperity and progress. This collaborative effort is critical in achieving those goals.

As of October 4, there have been a total of 95 homicides in the parish, which breaks the 2015 record of 94 total homicides. The number of total homicides includes cases such as negligent or justified homicide, meaning a person was responsible for another person's death, but it wasn't classified as a murder.

Roughly half of the murder cases this year remain unsolved.

Twelve people have been murdered in the last month. Two of those people are Bruce Cofield and Donald Smart, who were allegedly murdered by Kenneth Gleason in what police believe were racially motivated killings.

The most recent murder happened on October 3, when Baton Rouge police found Roosevelt Netter, 52, shot to death inside his home in the 6300 block of Blue Grass Drive.

Asha Davis, 29, was the first murder victim of 2017. She was found dead inside her home on Mohican-Prescott Crossover on January 1. Three others were shot that day within a 4-hour period after her death.

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