Agencies consider formation of crime task forces

Law enforcement officials in East Baton Rouge Parish are considering the formation of one or more “metro squads,” specialized task forces that combine the resources of several agencies to tackle crime.

The concept, inspired in part by the Metro Squad of the 1980s, has gained traction among several officials as a possible alternative to merging parish law enforcement agencies.

Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps proposed the multi-jurisdictional squads this month at the second meeting of the Law Enforcement Unification Committee, a panel weighing options to eliminate the duplication of services among law enforcement agencies in the parish.

Knaps said the squads would likely focus on narcotics trafficking, armed robbery and sex offenses, among other crimes. Regular meetings of agents would improve intelligence and enable law enforcement to target criminals who move about the parish, he said.

“Let them sit down and talk about what’s going on and exchange information,” Knaps said of the agents. “If we don’t talk, then they don’t know that information exists.”

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said he supports the idea, pointing to the success of initiatives like the Delta Narcotics Task Force, which includes several area agencies but not the Baton Rouge Police Department.

“We need to take action now,” Gautreaux said last week. “We should and must work together, and it’s got to be on a daily basis. We can’t do it on a sometimes basis.”

While the Police Department has not been a part of the Delta effort, it has participated in other multi-agency task forces focusing on high-tech and financial crimes, illegal weapons, homicides and fugitive apprehension, said Lt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman. One example is the widely lauded Violent Crime Unit, which was formed in 2011 and includes representatives from the Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, State Police, District Attorney’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“We believe in the task force concept,” Kelly said, “and Chief (Carl) Dabadie is certainly open to discussing our possible participation in any worthwhile multi-agency effort.”

Begun as an experiment in January 1981, the original Metro Squad consisted of two city police detectives and two State Police detectives who focused primarily on robbery investigations. The squad was credited with solving more than 150 crimes in its first four months and was quickly made a permanent fixture.

East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies later joined the effort, while State Police pulled out in 1984 due to staffing issues, according to newspaper accounts at the time. The five-man unit was disbanded in 1989.

Then-Sheriff Elmer Litchfield said at the time that dissolving the squad would free up manpower for other assignments and minimize the duplication of efforts among the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office.

Proponents of resurrecting the Metro Squad on a larger scale today say the joint effort would further cooperation among agencies and benefit the whole parish.

“To me it’s a no-brainer,” said Metro Councilman John Delgado, who sits on the Law Enforcement Unification Committee. “It doesn’t require anything other than the willingness of each of the department heads.”

City Constable Reginald Brown said the busts made by the Delta Narcotics Task Force — including its seizure this month of more than 100 pounds of marijuana and other contraband — have “shown the impact of what we’re able to do together.

“Every department brings something to the table to help with this,” Brown added. “I think we could see a big change of the climate of crime in this community.”

Councilman Joel Boé said he wants to hear more about Knaps’ proposal at a future unification committee meeting. Despite the buzz generated by talk of a Metro Squad, Boé said, committee members have not abandoned their original discussion of merging parish law enforcement agencies.