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March 13, 2007 - New Orleans Times-Picayune (LA)

Police Focus On Hard-Core Criminals

Tactic Shifts From Zero Tolerance Of Minor Violations, Riley Says

By Brendan McCarthy, Staff writer

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After a weekend marred by bloodshed, New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley said Monday his department is now focusing more on the city's most violent criminals and less on the small-time offenders.

His statements signal a major change in tactics and a marked departure from previous statements that the department would aggressively pursue even the lowest-level offenders.

"We are focusing now on hard-core offenders," Riley said at a news conference on the efforts of a joint federal and local task force. "We are slowly pulling away from the minor violations."

Riley has previously said that clearing the streets of street-corner dealers and addicts would put pressure on the most likely murderers.

Because so much of New Orleans' violent crime surrounds the drug trade, Riley reshaped the major narcotics unit to aggressively target street-level drug dealers rather than their mid-level or kingpin suppliers. In late 2006, he spoke of this approach, calling it a return to "fundamental policing." However, the continuing killings and the steady drumbeat of critics has apparently swayed the city's top cop.

On Monday, Riley shed additional light on what he called a new approach.

In the case of vehicle checkpoints -- a tactic he instituted in January -- Riley said his officers will lay off "good-quality citizens," people without criminal records.

"We are going to give them warnings and move on," Riley said. "We are not going to tie our officers up with good-quality citizens who have no arrest records. . . . We have to get our officers back on the streets and focus on hard-core criminals."

This spotlight on the city's most violent offenders was the subject of the briefing Monday by Riley, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and officials from federal law enforcement agencies.

Forty-six people have been arrested on federal charges since federal agents were deployed in late January to work alongside NOPD officers.

The key point, according to Letten, is that all but two of these people remain in federal custody. This keeps them off the streets and unable to commit more crimes, he said.

"They are separated from society until their case is disposed of," Letten said.

Riley, Letten and Jim Bernazzani, the FBI's special agent in charge of New Orleans, all echoed similar sentiments heard often in the local law enforcement community: A small group of criminals commits the bulk of the city's violent crime.

The task force, financed and designed at the federal level, embeds federal agents with police officers to target city hot spots, especially areas in the 2nd and 6th districts.

"We need to identify the baddest of the bad, and we will go after them," Bernazzani said.

The three-month federal deployment period is set to end in late April. Bernazzani said Monday he has already told federal officials in Washington he intends to petition for an extended 90-day deployment.

Brendan McCarthy can be reached at or (504) 826-3301.

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