Viewpoint: Crime among the issues plaguing New Orleans in Hurricane Ida’s aftermath

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NOPD investigates a crime scene on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (Uptown Messenger file photo)

Times are tough since Hurricane Ida decimated New Orleans, and they don’t seem to be getting better quickly enough. 

Blue tarps dot the horizon as homeowners wait for their insurance settlements. Storm debris is disappearing slowly, and trash pickup is down to one day a week. Entergy wants to take a hike rather than face the music. Whether the utility stays or goes, utility rates will probably rise. The cost of flood insurance is increasing along with the cost of gasoline, a hamburger at McDonald’s and grocery store staples, the latter blamed on international supply chain issues. 

It’s hard to drive around New Orleans long without encountering a pothole or other obstruction.  Neighborhood streets will probably flood during the next heavy rain. The state school superintendent wants to shelve letter grades and performance scores this year. The scores would look too depressing. Vaccination rates are up but not enough to halt hospitalizations and deaths. Mardi Gras parades are still possible as long as there’s no new winter surge. Though leisure visitors are returning, most big convention groups won’t reappear until 2022 or beyond.   

It’s possible to look past most of these situations as just part of life in the new world order shaped by climate change and previously unknown life-threatening diseases. What can’t easily be overlooked is the increased crime threatening the quality of life in every New Orleans neighborhood.  

Gun violence occurs every day in one neighborhood or another. Citizens are mourning the needless death of French Quarter restaurant owner and serial entrepreneur Richard “Snapper” Washington, a good man who often hired those who were considered unemployable. Just last week Washington opened his new pride and joy, the Wing Taxi restaurant on Toulouse Street. He was killed outside his Faubourg Marigny apartment Sunday night. 

On Monday (Oct. 11), the Metropolitan Crime Commission released fresh statistics about crime in the city. The MCC’s Raphael Goyeneche said that New Orleans citywide had “a rough week” for shootings and murders.

“We are up to 165 homicides to date — an 11% increase when compared with 2020 and a 79% increase when compared with 2019. We have had 386 nonfatal shooting incidents — a 36% increase when compared with 2020 and a 104% increase when compared with 2019,” Goyeneche said.

MCC’s citywide statistics also show that carjackings are up 151% from 2019 to 2021. While auto thefts are up 9% during that same period, armed robberies have actually decreased 13%.  

In the Second NOPD District, which includes the Audubon, Carrollton, Freret, Uptown, Hollygrove and Broadmoor neighborhoods, homicides are up 100% from 2019 to 2021. Carjackings are up 140%, while auto thefts have increased 17%.  Nonfatal shootings are down 27%. In the Second District during the last 12 months, 220 cars have been stolen, 23 robberies have occurred, 12 cars have been broken into, 11 Uptown residents have been shot and six killed.

Metropolitan Crime Commission

NOPD Second District year-to-date changes in crime rates. (Courtesy of Metropolitan Crime Commission)

In the Sixth NOPD District, which includes the Central City, Lower Garden District, Irish Channel and Hoffman Triangle neighborhoods, homicides are up 36% from 2019 to 2021. Shootings are up 132%; armed robberies have increased 9%. Auto thefts have increased only 1%. The raw numbers show that there have been 15 homicides, 44 shootings, 12 carjackings, 30 armed robberies and 213 auto thefts.

Metropolitan Crime Commission

NOPD Sixth District year-to-date changes in crime rates. (Courtesy of Metropolitan Crime Commission)

The MCC was also critical of District Attorney Jason Williams yesterday, suggesting that Williams does not prosecute as many violent crimes as he could — especially battery, assault and robbery charges. Goyeneche said Williams has failed to “uphold his pledge” to prosecute and convict violent offenders. There have been fewer violent felony arrests since he took office. The MCC examined more than 19,000 screening decisions and case depositions. Almost half (46%) of violent felonies screened for prosecution were refused, he said.

The MCC is encouraging Williams to reprioritize holding violent felony offenders accountable and to broaden it diversion program to give more non-violent offenders access to supervision and services that will reduce their recidivism. 

With New Orleans extremely limited number of police officers and lackluster recruiting success, citizens should be pleased that crime isn’t even higher. The 2021 World Population Review ranks St. Louis, Missouri as America’s most violent city with 2,082 incidents per 100,000 people. New Orleans is ranked 18th on the list. 

While Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced earlier this week that civilians will begin to fill some non-patrol positions at the NOPD, nothing compares to a fully staffed and equipped complement of POST certified officers prepared to handle the youth and habitual offenders who shamelessly prey on New Orleans residents and visitors. All the major candidates running for office have announced new programs to fight crime. Until New Orleans is able to recruit and retain more police officers, little will change.   

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

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