By Gregory R. Rusovich | The Advocate | January 17, 2022
New Orleans has become a more dangerous place to live, work and raise a family. Behind each grim crime statistic are many victims. Our quality of life and our city’s viability are at risk, and the New Year presents an opportunity for city leaders to act on this growing threat. The causes contributing to surging violent crime are identifiable, and solutions to improve public safety are attainable.
First, let’s review the data. From the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2021, New Orleans experienced an 80% increase in homicides, 91% rise in shootings, and a 164% surge in carjackings.
These alarming numbers are no fault of the remaining brave men and women of the New Orleans Police Department, which has seen a precipitous drop in manpower during the last decade. In 2010, the force comprised about 1,500 officers. In 2019, that number declined to 1,226. Today, there are fewer than 1,100 officers.
Despite this personnel shortage, NOPD is doing its best to arrest violent offenders. According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the police made 2,048 violent felony arrests in 2021. But the District Attorney’s office under Jason Williams refused or dismissed 1,223 violent felony cases during that same period. By comparison, in 2019, the NOPD made 2,093 violent felony arrests and 924 cases ─ nearly 300 fewer ─ were refused or dismissed under former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson has expressed concern over officer morale and a lack of criminal accountability. At a City Council meeting in November, he said the officers “have been demoralized. I think part of that is when the arrested subject tells them, I’ll be out before you get off.”
Further compromising public safety, the City Council passed an ordinance last year prohibiting law enforcement’s legitimate use of multiple cellular and surveillance technologies. But shouldn’t we provide the NOPD with the same access to technology that other policing agencies use to identify and arrest criminals?
Many other cities are struggling with rising violent crime rates and criminal justice systems that fail to hold criminals accountable. As public backlash spreads, mayors are taking note. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a recent fiery speech: “It’s time for the reign of criminals who are destroying our city … to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bull that has destroyed our city.”
Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter wrote a blistering letter condemning District Attorney Larry Krasner’s policies toward violent criminals, urging him to “prosecute them, rather than coddle them, make excuses, reduce or drop charges.” And in New York City, voters overwhelmingly elected ex-police officer Eric Adams, who has promised a crackdown on criminals, while Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg contrarily outlined additional serious crimes to downgrade from felonies.
The public is rallying in support of law enforcement. Locally, a recent survey by the New Orleans Crime Coalition found that 90% support increasing NOPD manpower to patrol neighborhoods and 88% favor increasing use of computer analytics and other technologies. These local results align with national data demonstrating public support for more spending for police.
Along with increased spending, expanded proactive policing would reduce crime. This past summer, the NOPD launched “Operation Golden Eagle” in partnership with the Louisiana State Police. This alliance provided additional manpower and actionable intelligence that resulted in 90 arrests, a significant number of seized weapons and several federal indictments. Partnerships with federal, state and regional law enforcement provide greater bandwidth, scale and resources. Active sweeps place criminals on the defensive.
The solutions are clearly within reach. We need more cops, so provide raises or retention bonuses. Surge money into effective recruiting efforts aimed at bolstering the number of test takers. Expand proactive policing and enhance partnerships with enforcement agencies at every level. Amend the ill-advised technology ordinance passed by the previous Council and provide law enforcement with all available technology tools. And ensure the district attorney’s office and court system hold criminals accountable for their actions.
Let’s get it right NOLA. We always come through ─ sometimes it just takes some extra prodding.