Six people mowed down in seconds in Central City. Two brothers shot to death in the Upper 9th Ward. As the city grapples with an alarming increase in gun violence this year, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison on Monday announced the creation of a special anti-shooting squad.

Harrison said the tactical unit, which will have eight officers and one sergeant, is part of the department’s Special Operations Division, which also contains its SWAT team.

The unit, which began working on Sunday, is modeled on the TIGER task force he created in June to tackle a rise in armed robberies.

“We’re going to take the fight to the bad guys, instead of waiting for the bad guys,” Harrison said. “This unit will gather the intelligence and then go out there and find the people who are carrying the illegal guns and committing the violent offenses.”

A leading criminologist said he sees promise in the Police Department’s new push to focus on perpetrators of gun violence, but he cautioned that it must not come at the cost of harming community relations.

The new effort comes as the city struggles to contain the rising number of shootings. Through Sunday, there had been 55 shooting incidents that claimed one or more victims in New Orleans this year, an 86 percent rise over the same period in 2016. Homicides of all kinds, including those not involving shooting, are up 100 percent, to a total of 38 victims through Sunday.

Jeff Asher, a crime analyst who tracks city data, said there have been 531 shooting incidents over the past year that claimed a total of 661 victims. The number of shootings is the highest the city has experienced since at least 2010, the earliest year for which data are available.

Denise Butler woke up with a start early that Sunday. The television was showing the latest …

Harrison did not specifically reference the dire growth in gun violence in announcing the unit, but he did signal that he was well aware of the concern the trend has generated.

Harrison said the new unit, which does not have a name of its own, will blend investigations with apprehensions. Many of its members were previously working as detectives in districts.

"The mission is clear: go after and capture the people who are committing gun violence," Harrison said.

A Police Department spokeswoman said that every district except the 4th, which covers Algiers, and the 8th, which includes the French Quarter and Central Business District, will lose an officer to the new unit. The department expects to fill those vacant positions in a matter of weeks.

Plans for the unit have been in the works for some time. But Harrison said he had to wait until after the Carnival holidays, and the graduation of a new batch of recruits from field-officer training, to implement the idea.

“We did it as soon as we could, without hurting any of the other districts or resources around the department,” he said.

District detectives will remain the primary investigators on shootings in which no one dies, Harrison said. The new tactical squad will help them build cases and concentrate on tracking down the shooters.

The unit will focus mostly on assaults and attempted murders, according to a Police Department spokeswoman. But she said it will also "work closely" with homicide detectives.

Harrison said the new unit’s detectives will prioritize certain offenders over others. But he declined to say whether the unit will concentrate its efforts on certain neighborhoods — like the 7th and 9th wards — that have taken the brunt of the rise in gun violence.

Meanwhile, Harrison said, he is adding no new officers to the Multi-Agency Gang Unit and the Street Gang Unit. Both of those units, which are focused on gang violence, have dwindled in size over the past few years.

Those units once built complex cases over the course of years against gangs like the “39’ers.” Harrison said the new unit will instead focus on making speedier arrests.

“Instead of increasing the size of the Street Gang Unit, we gave a mission to a group of tactical officers just for shootings, and going after people who are committing violent offense on an everyday basis, and not to necessarily build the long-term cases, but to go after them now,” Harrison said.

One leading criminologist said New Orleans' new approach could pay off — but he warned that the Police Department must take pains not to harm its relations with the city’s residents in the process.

“It makes a great deal of sense to concentrate resources on individuals believed to be shooters. Gun violence spreads like a contagious disease, especially if shooters are not brought to justice,” said Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, who researches gun violence.

“The big question is, how will (the new unit) operate?” Webster asked in an email. “Special operations teams may not feel the same concern for building positive relationships with communities, promoting police legitimacy and procedural justice in the way that might occur when the officers are under a district commander.”

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432