By Gary Forster (Contributing Columnist) | The Advocate | April 13, 2022

New Orleans is under attack. Gangsters running thugs, especially repeat offenders, are having their way with a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

At least 18 people were shot over last weekend, and six have died. It’s been 10 years since New Orleans has had more shootings over a 72-hour period. The New Orleans Police Department is significantly understaffed and under-equipped. Politicians in charge aren’t helping the police officers who are trying to protect the city.

According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, 77 people have been murdered in New Orleans to date this year, a substantial 126% increase over the same period in 2019. Nonfatal shootings are at 132, or 132% higher than the same period three years ago. Carjackings are up an astronomical 307%, and armed robberies up 28% over 2019 year-to-date figures.

In three months, NOPD has lost 47 officers, and the recent academy class had only 18 cadets.

Progressive council members, and now progressive state legislators, are more concerned with protecting criminal defendants than the victims of their crimes.

Convictions in Orleans Parish are so rare that District Attorney Jason Williams calls a press conference whenever he wins. Williams hopes we forgot his failures to follow the legally mandated Article 701 “right to a speedy trial” deadlines in a majority of 2021 felony arrests. More than 1,500 felony arrests did not have a decision on charges accepted for prosecution within deadlines established by the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure. As a result, 59% of felony suspects were released from custody or court-supervised bail bond requirements without being prosecuted for any crime.

Analysis shows that violent and weapons felony arrests were more likely than other types of charges to go without screening decisions within legal deadlines, according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

In this war zone, arrest-and-release atmosphere, state Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, authored House Bill 729 to exempt most police booking photos (mugshots) from public record until the subject is “proven guilty.” In New Orleans, that means no more mugshots.

Duplessis said that “the spirit of this bill is we’re all presumed innocent.” Does he not understand that presumption of innocence is a courtroom concept once the judge starts trial?

If you follow the Duplessis logic, police would never be able to arrest anyone for breaking laws because they’re “presumed innocent.” The street is where investigations take place and witnesses are found. You need mugshots for that.

If Duplessis wants to stop internet-based public shaming once a mug shot is posted or “pay-to-remove” scams, then he should address those problems directly. Stopping them should not outweigh the public’s right to know what law enforcement agencies are doing and who they are arresting.

Law enforcement is financed with public funds. What police do is public record, and should include any pictures taken. The public has a right to know who has been arrested, especially if that person is out on bond and potentially dangerous to someone in their family. Thugs who get out usually go looking for the ones who got them arrested.

Despite all this, HB729 passed the House and is awaiting consideration in the state Senate. Senators ought to think about the residents and tourists under attack in the Crescent City, and limit the bill to non-violent, first-time offenders. Those outside of New Orleans should call their sheriffs and police chiefs, and ask if they oppose releasing mug shots until conviction. Unless it’s amended to cover Orleans only, HB 729 would apply to their parishes and cities, too.