NEW ORLEANS - Police say gangs are fueling a lot of the violence in New Orleans, and authorities are cracking down on like never before.
The horrific Mother's Day shooting is bringing issues of gang violence in New Orleans to the forefront. Police say the suspected gunmen are linked to a street gang, and they say it’s one of many.
“Those gangs are real. They are very ,very real. Some of them are extremely dangerous,” said Commander Henry Dean, New Orleans Police Special Investigations Unit.
For years, police didn't realize New Orleans had a gang issue. But Cincinnati criminologist Dr. Robin Engel recently performed a gang audit in New Orleans, identifying more than 650 gang members in about 40 gangs or groups.
“There are more neighborhoods that have more gangs, and there are some neighborhoods that are more violent than others,” said Dean.
Just last week, authorities handed down a 51-count federal indictment, arresting 15 members of the 110ers gang. The group is accused of committing 15 murders, including that of five-year-old Brianna Allen at a Central City birthday party last year.
“This small number of people in gangs or groups are responsible for the overwhelming number of murders and shootings in this city. They are, in fact, terrorizing our streets,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
But gangs in New Orleans are unique from those in other cities. Police say you won't find national affiliations here, like the Bloods or Crips. Instead, you'll find smaller, loosely organized neighborhood gangs with a fluid membership .
“Each day we're identifying new groups,” said Michael Anderson, Special Agent in Charge at the FBI’s New Orleans Division. “And the problem with neighborhood gangs is they come apart frequently too.”
In that case, how do you define a gang? Police say it's a group of three or more people who commit a series of crimes together.
But some remain skeptical about the dominance of gangs in New Orleans.
“We've always had in New Orleans what we call territorial fights, uptown versus downtown and that sort of thing,” said Dr. John Penny, a criminologist at Southern University of New Orleans.
Meanwhile, the Multi Agency Gang Unit is working to dismantle these groups. The task force, which was formed in November, includes nearly a dozen local, state, and federal agencies across the criminal justice system.
“We're looking at phone records, we're looking at wire taps, we're looking at undercover operations,” said Anderson.
Authorities say they are investigating at least eight gangs. And they’re confident those groups will be stopped.