VIPER units target gang violence

April 4, 2008 3:28:01 PM PDT
Fed up and teaming up. More than a dozen communities in New Jersey are pulling together to fight crime.It's an impressive banding together of law enforcement organizations that otherwise might be working in isolation.

Sixteen towns in Essex County are joining forces to fight drugs and gangs. The impetus: a challenge from the state attorney general.

New Jersey reporter Anthony Johnson has the story.

Authorities say that there has been an upsurge in gang recruitment so far in 2008. The new law enforcement initiative, called VIPER, aims to gather sophisticated intelligence before authorities go after the gangs.

The focus will be on neighborhoods plagued by violence. Those areas will have priority for staging roundups, especially for those with outstanding warrants. The new units will also have access to a national ballistics database, and will use wiretapping and electronic surveillance to bring in suspected gang members.

"We're confident that this new approach, this smarter approach, to law enforcement will have a bigger bang for the buck and go after larger targets," Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow said.

Authorities say popular Web sites have also become a recruiting tool for the gangs. The combined gang and narcotics squad will share information with other law enforcement agencies in the county. It's all part of a state-wide anti-violence program.

"When they check somebody a gang member or check someone for criminal activity, we'll be able to start and have the capacity then to share it with municipal police departments in the suburbs," Essex County Chief Investigator Anthony Ambrose said.

The VIPER unit will track data on gang members, territories and activities. The squad will be operating both day and night to help reduce violent crime in Essex County.

The 21-person unit will be working out of a secret location. They will also get help from state and federal authorities.