The FBI field office in Baton Rouge ranks investigating violent crime and “neighborhood gangs” among its top priorities alongside sniffing out human traffickers and sexual predators who target children online.
FBI agents also are being pushed to spend more time outside of their offices, speaking to people in the community as opposed to conducting investigations mostly in front of computer screens, Michael Anderson, the special agent in charge in New Orleans who oversees the bureau’s activity across Louisiana, said Wednesday during a speech to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.
“Cases across the board are driven by confidential informants and human witnesses,” Anderson said, emphasizing the need for agents to do more in-person work.
Anderson, a longtime federal agent known for his anti-corruption work, touched on local and national priorities for the bureau during his speech, which was dubbed a “State of the Union” of the FBI in Louisiana with a particular focus on its Baton Rouge operations.
“In Baton Rouge, we are looking more at the neighborhood-based gangs …” Anderson said. “That has been the challenge.”
Anderson, a Minnesota native, said, somewhat lightheartedly, that he almost wished the gangs were more structured, such as the notorious West Coast gangs called “The Bloods” and “The Crips,” because the fractious and ever-changing nature of the less-organized gangs here make them more difficult to investigate. Local law enforcement and city leaders also have placed an emphasis on disbanding local gangs, described by some officials as “groups,” as part of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project.
Speaking to a crowd of mostly club members dining at their weekly meeting, Anderson said much of the bureau’s white-collar investigations in Baton Rouge revolve around health care fraud. Investor fraud cases, too, crop up more often in the state’s capital than in other parts of the state, he said.
During his speech, Anderson also touched on terrorism fears, especially as they relate to bomb threats. Since he took over the FBI’s operations in Louisiana in 2012, the bureau has worked between 60 and 75 bomb threat cases statewide, Anderson said.
“The threats instill terror in the community,” he said, regardless of whether a threat is a hoax.
Nationally, Anderson said, home-grown extremists who are influenced by high-profile terrorist groups — but not necessarily directly associated with them — represent the most pressing terrorism threat.
On the topic of human trafficking, Anderson said, Louisiana’s tourism industry makes the state “especially vulnerable” to human trafficking enterprises, although Louisiana isn’t alone.
“It is an epidemic in this country,” he said.
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