By Erin Lowrey/WDSU/ Mar 7, 2024

NEW ORLEANS —The Metropolitan Crime Commission issued a scathing report on the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office on Thursday.

The watchdog group reported that District Attorney Jason Williams’ Office prosecuted less felony crime in the past two years than the previous administration despite a surge in violent crime.

The report claims that Williams’ lack of prosecution in felony crimes is “compromising the work of the New Orleans Police Department as well as the safety of citizens.”

The report claims prosecution fell from 44 percent under Leon Cannizzaro to 20 percent under Williams.

According to MCC, Williams’ office dismissed 1,859 open felony prosecutions. Of those 1,859 cases, 457 people were re-arrested.

The report outlines that during the last two years of Williams’ term, major violent crime spiked by 69 percent.

The NOPD has also been dealing with an officer shortage during the wave of violent crime.

In 2021, the NOPD arrested 4,741 people and the MCC report claims the district attorney’s office refused 1,407 of those cases. A total of 1,859 were dismissed.

In 2022, the NOPD arrested 4,603 people, and the district attorney refused 2,405 of those cases. The DA’s office also dismissed 500 cases.

The MCC’s report claims despite the New Orleans Criminal Justice System showing signs of improvement, that there is a breakdown in police and prosecutor coordination.

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office issued a statement on the MCC’s findings.

“History has clearly shown the residents of New Orleans that the MCC’s methodology of analyzing isolated outcomes in a vacuum is not what impacts the crime rate. There is no direct correlation between “as charged, “”lesser charged,” or “misdemeanors” dispositions decisions on overall public safety.

“New Orleans was the incarceration capital for years, AND at the same time, we led the nation in murders and other crime categories. We were also last in poverty, education, mental health care services, and economic opportunity, but that data is rarely mentioned in public safety discussions. This idea that we can solve the crime problem in its entirety by mass incarceration has been proven wrong time and time again.

“The DA’s office strives to make the right call in charging decisions and the handling of matters without a thought as to what the end statistics look like. Notably, this report does not provide a single example of a case where we are alleged to have made a bad decision. Making charging or resolution decisions with the lives of victims and defendants on the line while being preoccupied with the end stats is dangerous and unethical.

“This is what the statistics and conviction rates look like when you don’t cheat…or threaten to use the habitual offender statute in every case, or have defendants who cannot afford to bond out pleading guilty just to go home and get back to their jobs, regardless of their guilt or innocence. This often occurred at arraignment before discovery had been even completed in prior administrations.

“The community elected me because they wanted the system to be fair because it was not historically fair. My office fully embraces that charge and is working diligently to undo the sins of the past.

“When people lose faith in the system, they are more likely to take the law into their own hands, which only leads to a horrible cycle of retaliatory violence. Witnesses are less likely to cooperate and come to court to testify in prosecutions when there is no trust. We, as prosecutors, have to embody what that fairness looks like – even when others don’t.

“With respect to the MCC numbers, some of the representations are factual and some are speculative or editorial on the tails of a special session designed to roll back the bipartisan criminal justice reforms of 2017 which sought to change our status as leaders in mass incarceration.

“The statistic that matters is the one that reflects the City’s crime rate. By the end of 2023, after publicly articulating and implementing a series of strategic OPDA initiatives, the city logged a 27% decline in homicides and the largest decline in all major crime categories in the country. That is an objective truth regardless of vantage point, and we should all embrace that success while doing our parts to ensure those gains are sustainable.”

You can read the full MCC report here.