EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - There's a new push to target the most dangerous criminals after one of the deadliest years in Evansville's history.
The Evansville Police Department has assigned a new task force, called the VIPER unit, which stands for Violent, Incident, Prevention, Enforcement, Response. The unit's mission is to hunt down the most violent, repetitive offenders and lock them up.
"People are shooting people. People are shooting at houses, people shooting at cars," said the unit's Sergeant, Patrick Phernetton. "Eventually one of these bullets is going to find its way to an innocent person, or God forbid, an innocent child."
Over 65 people were shot last year, and EPD said 20 murders in 2017 almost tripled the rate from two years ago.
"Now, it's a real dedicated push on our part to go and find these guys and lock them up," Sgt. Phernetton said.
We learned undercover officers are now working full time tracking men and women with warrants for violent crimes.
They're scouring social media, learning which vehicles they drive, and which "gang" they associate with.
We're told the undercover VIPERs then call in other officers within the unit. This time, they're in uniform to make the arrests.
"We're targeting the bad guys in these high crime neighborhoods, all across the city," said Phernetton.
So far into the new year, Sgt. Phernetton says the VIPER unit pulled in 63 felony arrests as of Wednesday.
They've confiscated 10 illegal guns off the streets, and they've made dozens of misdemeanor arrests.
According to EPD, by this time last year, there were already five shootings.So far in 2018, there have been two deadly shootings.
That's progress. But, officers say VIPER unit patrol is just getting started.
"It takes a system to make this effective," explained Sgt. Phernetton. "It takes citizens cooperating with us, and witnesses telling us where and what they saw. It takes us going out and locking them up. It takes the prosecutor pushing cases through. It also takes the judge handing down some real sentences to these violent criminals."
Police Chief Bolin has assigned an officer to the US Marshals Task Force.
The department is working more closely with the FBI and ATF task forces as well.
Officers say they plan to use every law they can to lock up offenders and reassure members of the community that they're safe.