The New Orleans Police Department will ask the city to fund 50 crime cameras at hotspots around the city, reviving a program abandoned nearly two years ago.
NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas mentioned the upcoming budget request during a two-hour presentation about the city’s efforts to reduce crime, specifically during an exchange with Councilman Jon Johnson. A common theme in the council’s questioning of Serpas on Thursday afternoon centered on the department’s staffing levels, and Johnson was pressing Serpas on whether the 1,300 or so officers currently on the force is enough.
A complete force would be more like 1,575 people, Serpas says, which would give patrol officers to spend about 35 or 40 percent of their time on proactive community policing efforts, rather than the 20 percent they spend now. In terms of officers on the street, that would be a total of 900, rather than the 775 the department currently has.
So, if the city council was able to give the department an additional 200 officers, how much would that reduce the murder rate? Johnson asked.
“I don’t think anybody could tell you that,” Serpas says. “Would it be better? Absolutely.”
Serpas said he does plan for the city to begin funding the crime camera program again, and will ask for 50 to be placed around the city this year. They were abandoned in late 2010 when the Landrieu administration deemed them too costly and ineffective, but Serpas said that’s because they hadn’t been properly maintained.
“The prior administration just didn’t put funding in the system to maintain them,” Serpas said in a short interview after his presentation. “It’s like buying a car but not putting oil in it.”
The dormant cameras have been a source of frustration for residents who live near specific crime hotspots. In the 3800 block of Annunciation, for example, residents rued the fact that the latest murder took place under what appeared to be a broken camera. If the city approves the budget request, Serpas said he will place the cameras based on the most recent crime trends.
“We would just absolutely look at what the data tells us: Where is the best place to put them to try to get those images that would help us solve crimes?” Serpas said.
Some cities, Serpas said in the presentation, use “overt” crime cameras that are highly visible to the public and deter crime, such as in Chicago, and Serpas said he would support the eventual addition of those to New Orleans streets as well. New Orleans’ dormant cameras are considered “covert” cameras, however, and he would support continuing to use them in the short-term.
“Overt is a good long-term solution because the camera box clearly demonstrates that the police camera is there and stops a lot of instability,” Serpas said.
Even if the camera program is reactivated, private individuals’ cameras will also remain extremely important to investigators, Serpas said, because they are often closer to street-level and can capture suspects’ faces more directly.
To read live coverage of the meeting, see below.