Yesterday’s announcements about the rise of armed robberies and that Councilmembers Jason Williams and Susan Guidry want to prioritize funding for 911 operators both illustrate the importance of better funding agencies involved in criminal justice.
“We are one mistake away from disaster and tragedy,” said Williams, who serves as Council President. “And it is unacceptable.”
Today as the City Council debates amendments to the 2016 budget (which will be voted on December 1st), additional dollars for the woefully underfunded Public Defenders office and the Orleans Parish Prison will also be on their radar screen. With the already lengthy wait inmates already face for public defender services, inmates could have filed a class action suit demanding speedier trials.
If projections are accurate, for the first time since 2010 New Orleans residents will be victims of more than 90 robberies each of the last four months. When citizens call 911 they can expect a long wait, Williams explained, because there are not enough NOPD call-takers to answer all the lines. The existing NOPD communications department is “understaffed, overworked and underpaid,” he said. Unifying police, fire and EMS operators and cross-training them is already underway. It goes without saying that the overall number of police officers on the beat every day also contributes to the slowdown.
“We have an emergency on our hands and we need to begin acting accordingly. We can’t wait,” Williams continued.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton probably feel the same way. While Gusman received a large dose of emergency funding this week to make payroll and better equip his new building, chances are his approved allocation for next year will fall short of his projected needs to fully staff and operate all his facilities while at the same time satisfy the mandates of the Consent Decree. We might not like Gusman’s operating style, but he is an astute number cruncher, if nothing else.
Bunton and his staff of 40 attorneys do a Herculean job of serving those who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Many of his clients would spend a lot shorter time in our jail if Bunton’s resources were not so stretched. Bunton announced 10 furlough days for 2016 which will slow down the process even more.
Mayor Landrieu and the City Council will do their best to spread the available 2016 dollars. But those actions are only a temporary fix to the problem. Although available funding continues to grow each year as population increases and more hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments operate in Orleans Parish, our needs exceed current resources.
The Mayor and the Council should create a blue ribbon citizen task force to look at long-term solutions to the problem. The task force should be diverse, properly staffed and represent residents and businesses from throughout the city. They should spend adequate time studying the issues and use polls and focus groups to prioritize what residents are willing to pay for. Task force results should be the basis for our 2017 elections.
Councilmember Williams’ desire to re-allocate more than one million in the City’s 2016 budget to attract, train and retain employees as 911 call-takers, dispatchers and supervisors is a good first step. Much more must be done before citizens truly feel safe.
WE’LL CALL THE WINNERS: EDWARDS, NUNGESSER, LANDRY
Though there has been much drama, undue influence by political action committees and negative campaigning in general for many months now, we think the majority of Louisiana voters have made up their minds. The “threat” of Syrian refugees can’t save David Vitter. He was the Republican Party’s weakest choice and clearly will be the loser on Saturday.
In the race for Lt. Governor, former Plaquemine Parish President Billy Nungesser used his wealth wisely to paint a pretty picture as Louisiana’s next head cheerleader. Nungesser will help more parishes boost their ability to attract leisure and cultural visitors. The race is closer between former Congressman Jeff Landry and current Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, but Landry has the momentum and received a big endorsement from former candidate Geri Baloney.
Those who didn’t vote early should visit the polls this Saturday before 8 p.m.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several television programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.