Just call me F-23,931. Those are my unique numerals in the chronological list of citizens who requested an item number from the New Orleans Police Department in June 2023. I called the cops on June 25 because thieves decided to destroy the top of my car. After causing several thousand dollars of damage, the thugs got away with a few quarters and a pocket knife. Luckily, my insurance will cover the repairs. Many victims of automobile crimes must pay the costs entirely out of pocket, which negatively impacts more than a few family budgets.
I’m told that fewer citizens than usual called 911 during June, the “F” or sixth month of the year. Even though I reached out at 6 a.m., it took several hours for an officer to call me back. With the current disarray at the Orleans Parish Communication District, I felt lucky that someone called at all.
We also reported a late-night automobile accident about two weeks ago that appeared to be drug related. Though Emergency Medical Services and the Fire Department arrived quickly, the sun rose before an NOPD officer appeared on the scene.
At a press conference yesterday (June 28), Mayor LaToya Cantrell was very emphatic in her support for embattled OPCD director Tyrell Morris, who is suspected of altering a city policy after being involved in an automobile accident in his city-owned vehicle. Morris, who also operates a real estate business on the side, submitted his resignation effective Sept. 1. The City Council wants him out, now not only for allegedly altering the policy but also for the reduction in the OPCD’s effectiveness. Cantrell politely refused the council’s request.
Morris chairs Cantrell’s multi-department Crime Intervention Strategy Task Force that has yet to deliver results. While she won the battle to keep one of her most loyal staffers on the payroll an extra two months, the public is strapped with a communications system that desperately needs new leadership from a committed full-time director.
Cantrell has also welcomed back NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie to her Executive Security team. The federal consent decree monitors broadly panned the NOPD report on Vappie’s alleged payroll fraud allegations, which the Public Integrity Bureau brushed under the carpet. Vappie’s support by top NOPD brass as he apparently got away with overcharging taxpayers sends the wrong message to the hundreds of hard-working men and women on the force who don’t “game” the payroll system.
Speaking of all those hard-working officers, Cantrell has seized control of police recruitment from the nonprofit Police & Justice Foundation and can reprioritize the funding the group received for their work. The foundation stepped in to help with recruitment only after Cantrell’s team failed to attract new officers. Current police officers are the best recruiters for future officers. Yet the force doesn’t feel any love from city leaders. The additional funds Cantrell promised officers don’t help build an officer’s pension. With fewer than 800 men and women deployed in the field every day, criminals know the chances of getting caught are minimal. The city continues the fight to end the federal consent decree even though monitors say the NOPD continues to needs oversight.
As if the problems with the NOPD and the OPCD aren’t enough to make citizens angry, let’s review the current state of affairs at the Sewerage & Water Board, which Cantrell chairs. Her chosen director, Ghassan Korban, doesn’t seem to be in control of the goings on at Carrollton Water Treatment Plant — especially the allegations of payroll fraud, biased management and a room where employees purportedly have had sex. Was the now-locked sex room initially set up to house employees on duty during a hurricane?
There should never be any excuses for retaining employees who are making their own rules. If Korban is having difficulty keeping qualified staff with specific technical skills, he should partner with Delgado Community College to recruit and train those individuals. Just add the newly identified problems at the Carrollton plant on top of the billing issues the S&WB is still trying to resolve or the unfortunate funding gaps to support infrastructure improvements. Cantrell is aware of all these problems but has not stepped in to overhaul the agency. Ensuring the Carrollton facility and other pumping stations operating at maximum efficiency at all times – especially during hurricane season – should be a top priority to keep our citizens out of harm’s way.
The death of 18-year-old Revell Andrews this week is just another sad note in New Orleans current trajectory. Andrews had much to live for, but the city’s toxic culture ended his dreams.
Like many readers, I love New Orleans and want to remain a citizen of this great city. Unfortunately, it becomes increasing difficult to stay here when city leaders are not able to ensure public agencies operate without scandal and have the capacity to keep citizens safe in their homes or on city streets.
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, former 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 email@example.com.