By Natasha Robin & Mykal Vincent | WVUE | December 31, 2021
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Violent crime has taken its toll on New Orleans over the last 12 months.
Criminologists worry the increase in violence will continue into 2022.
“As bad as 2020 was from a violent crime perspective, 2021 was even worse,” says Rafael Goyeneche from the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
“There are things that happened this year that are largely unanticipated,” according to LSU criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf.
Carjackings, shootings, and murders are up.
Over 210 people were gunned down this year, several of them children.
New Orleans police responded to nearly 500 shooting scenes, an increase of 16% from last year. In some of the shootings, there were multiple victims.
In October, in front of an Uptown church, four men were working for “Groundwork New Orleans” when a truck full of gunmen pulled up and opened fire. Four were shot, two died.
“When you look at the number of shootings that we had this year, it’s remarkable that the homicide rate is not greater,” Goyeneche says.
“Shots rang out. I see the bullets flying over my head. I grabbed my daughter and I hit the ground,” O’Neal Bryant recalls.
More than 25 shootings unfolded on the interstate in New Orleans this year.
“This is a scary time and the idea that you’re vulnerable on a major highway is especially terrorizing,” Scharf says.
Over the last two years, violent crime seems to have shifted from armed robberies to carjackings.
Armed robberies decreased by about 8% but carjackings are way up. NOPD has investigated more than 270 carjackings this year.
A woman carjacked a vehicle in broad daylight in front of a gas station with two kids still inside. As an 8-year-old boy fell out, the carjacker rolled over his leg.
“What happened yesterday is unexplainable,” a witness says. “I’m still lost for words.” “We have to ask our city leaders to really think outside of the box to address this as the crisis that it is,” city councilman Morgan Clevenger said. “Because it is a crisis. We can’t just get used to this and accept it.”
“What human would roll over a child’s leg?” the store clerk asked.
The carjackers have been brazen, operating anytime, anywhere, leaving victims injured or dead.
“The psychological trauma of this is enormous,” Scharf says.
An entire community mourned the loss of 60-year-old Portia Pollock – carjacked, and stabbed to death as she left for work in June.
Goyeneche believes car burglaries also added to the violence that plagued the Big Easy in 2021.
“We’ve seen example after example where owners of cars tried to confront people breaking into their cars and they’re threatened with guns, fired at,” he says.
Goyeneche points to the recent shooting of criminal court Judge Robin Pittman’s mother, struck as she drove down Babylon Street in New Orleans East.
“A property owner saw some people breaking into his car and he warned them that he called police and told them to leave,” Goyeneche says. “The response from the offenders was to open fire.”
A dramatic decrease in NOPD manpower of the last few years is a contributing factor, Goyeneche believes.
“We had over 250 more police officers in 2019,” he says. “The police department had more officers which meant they were engaged in proactive policing.”
There were also specialized police units in the past that helped to target criminal activity.
Scharf says a lack of prevention programs is a serious problem.
“We should be out there teaching the carjackers that there’s a better way to earn a living and a better way to have fun,” Scharf says. “We are not reaching them.”
The court system also played a role.
“You’ve elected some new judges to the court,” Goyeneche says. “We’ve seen a continuation of bail modifications and lower bail for offenders.”
“The revolving door is spinning,” he added.
The surge in violence that’s risen over the past two years is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“Is this an indication or a leading indicator of violence in New Orleans going forward?” Scharf asked. “I fear it is.”
“I think we’re setting ourselves up for a very negative 2022,” Goyeneche says.