La. law enforcement prepares for influx of gang activity

Copyright 2006 Capital City Press
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The Advocate

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Members of some nationally affiliated gangs are coming to Louisiana to look for work following Hurricane Katrina, to find new members and to continue their lives of drugs and violence, officials said Thursday.

And while U.S. Attorney David Dugas said he hasn't seen signs that gangs are trying to organize, law enforcement officials are training this week in Baton Rouge and Shreveport to better prepare themselves to deal with gangs.

Dugas said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directed the U.S. Attorney's Office to form an anti-gang initiative.

"I think it's timely that it's happening now because of Katrina," Dugas said.

With an influx of people from around the country and Latin and Central America coming to Louisiana to work after last year's hurricanes, Dugas said he and others are concerned that some of them have ties to national gangs.

The training session includes information about the Mara Salvatrucha Gang, or MS-13. The FBI's Houston Gang Intelligence Division led the discussion about the violent Central American gang. Members of the gang were involved in a shootout with FBI and Houston police in November.

Thursday's training for about 250 area law enforcement officers was held at the State Police Training Academy in Baton Rouge. It was co-sponsored by the U.S. Attorney's Offices from the Middle, Eastern and Western Districts of Louisiana, the state Attorney General's Office, the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, State Police and the state Department of Education.

Today's training will be held for officers in the Shreveport area.

During the training, law enforcement officers are warned that gangs might be moving into their local areas and what signs to look for in spotting gang activity, Dugas said.

Not only do gangs present a danger to the community, but they also are a danger to officers on the street because of the level of violence associated with them, Dugas said.

In the past, said state Attorney General Charles Foti, gangs in Louisiana have operated in metropolitan areas at the neighborhood level with little to no national influence.

More recently, there have been reports of gang activity in places like St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes, Foti said.

Gang members are coming to Louisiana for jobs, because of pressure from other police departments to leave their current areas and to recruit new members, Foti said.

"This (training) process is to bring law enforcement officers together from all over the state," he said. "They can see if they have a problem and act."

State Police Col. Henry Whitehorn encouraged residents to be vigilant.

If someone sees an increase in graffiti, he or she should report it to police, Whitehorn said.

"That's an indicator," he said. 

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