French Quarters in the evening before the Pandemic. Crime has been an issue during Mardi Gras for a number of years. Photo credit: Mana5290 on Unsplash

New Orleans sees record highs in violent crime amidst police shortages

NOPD and mayor urge law enforcement cooperation and communal support as violent crime ravishes the city and resources turn toward pandemic aid.

Over the past two years, New Orleans has been experiencing a violent crime wave. Although crime may have dropped in surrounding parishes like Jefferson as compared to 2020 figures, the city of New Orleans (NOLA) is experiencing a violent crime spree. From gun-related crimes like broad daylight shootings to auto-theft, The Big Easy is plagued with the ever-constant menace of violence to residents and their property. 

“The spike in crime that we have experienced in this city during the pandemic is not a challenge any one agency can overcome alone,” said the NOLA’s Mayor LaToya Cantrell in a public safety meeting in early January with a local leadership team assembled to address the rise in crime. “In the days and months ahead, we will continue to work with all stakeholders — including the Courts, the DA, and OPSO—towards solutions that make our city safer.”

Several arrests pointing to the crime spike is the recent detainment of four men accused of committing eight armed robberies from uptown to of the Bywater District’s St. Roch area, all on January 15. The men were charged with 11 counts of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery with a firearm. New Orleans’s District Attorney (D.A.) Jason Williams will fight for convictions on all charges.

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In a press conference addressing the matter, the NOLA native asserted the present threat looming over the city, but reassured his office is working to get criminals, especially recidivists, incarcerated. 

“There is, in fact, a clear and present danger to the people of this community. There is a crime surge,” Williams began. “But the people of New Orleans can know that we are surging back and today four serious, violent offenders are off the street.”

In 2021, the City saw a record-high in homicides during a single year since pre-Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In December 2021, the city averaged one death daily. In a late January meeting with city council, Williams said his office accepted 95 percent of homicide cases and all manslaughter cases from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) in a few month span– from October to December 2021. 

Added to the grime statistics, the D.A. also reported that New Orleans saw 288 carjackings, a 20 percent climb from 2020—and a post-Katrina high of 218 homicides over the year.

Famous for the natural disasters and resulting environmental racism, NOLA has historically experienced social ills contributing to an outpouring of illegal activity. From wealth inequality and mass poverty before the pandemic, to increasing evictions and gentrification post, desperation is likely driving malfeasance.

The global shut down and its economic blow backs along with frequent storms has become the perfect storm in New Orleans. Photo credit: Jonathan Martin Pisfil

A [city] of emergency?

This all occurs in the shadow of the Omnicron variant swell. In mid-January, more of the U.S. National Guard was dispatched to aid in vaccination efforts. They join the nearly 1,000 guardsmen and airmen who have volunteered to be a part of the COVID task force. All the while, the local police department is severely understaffed. 

Currently, there are a little over 1,000 cops working the beat in the city. Notably, that is about 500 officers short of their long-standing target. In 2021, the department only hired 41 rookies, and lost more than 140 police officers. 

“We have been in a manpower crisis in the New Orleans Police Department for years now. And it’s not gotten any better. In fact recently, it’s gotten a lot worse,” said Fraternal Order of Police attorney Donovan Livaccari. “We’ve already lost all of the pro-active elements of the police department, if not all of them.”

Hence, crime is running amok as constituents plead for acknowledgement and assistance from Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and NOLA Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Although reserved for emergencies such as natural disasters, locals like business owner Rhonda Findley, are calling on the Guard to refocus on their surroundings. 

“My house was broken into. The next night there were four armed gunmen outside my door, 10 feet from my door and my home. Then I was terrorized in my business,” expressed Findley. “Our children are being shot. Our neighbors are being shot. More manpower most certainly will make a difference,” said Findley.

Currently, the white-owned French Quarter boutique is petitioning for the military branch to be deployed into neighborhoods on behalf of civilian protection. Rolanda Spencer, a Xavier University professor and social justice scholar told Ark Republic that the logistics suggested to bring in the military only propose for the National Guards to be “stationed in the [predominantly] Black sections,” of the city. To date, the petition has almost reached its 5,000 signature goal. 

Being Black in a chocolate city

While some argue that white residents are demanding increased police presence as Mardi Gras looms, the problem for Black constituents runs deeper with NOPD. In the past, the NOPD has been investigated after allegations of corruption via excessive brutality and discriminatory policing, including illegal stop and searches; even prompting attention from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. Yet, Mayor Cantrell and the local police department attempt to wipe the slate clean with implications that residents must take accountability for their contribution to the current circumstances. 

“We hear our community, loud and clear. We understand that the terrorism that’s been happening on our streets, and to our people, is absolutely unacceptable,” asserted Mayor Cantrell during a press conference alongside Superintendent of Police Shaun Ferguson last week. “But make no mistake about it, the New Orleans police department… are laser-focused in making the arrests that are necessary to keep people off of our streets.”

“The men and women of the [NOPD] take an oath of office to serve, give all they have and leave it on the line, every single day… Now is not the time to demonstrate a lack of support for our police officers…now is the time to ensure accountability happens across the board…Accountability, reads Accountability, reads Accountability.”

For the future, Superintendent Ferguson reasserted the focus on violent crime. As well, he advocated for the use of investigatory tools like crime cameras and enhancing district community action teams as crime deterrent strategies. He hopes the continued cooperation between law enforcement agencies will lead to identifying hotspots and criminal networks, leading to charges on state or even federal levels. 

In 2021, the department secured 29 federal indictments and are looking to build on the partnership with the U.S. District Attorney’s office according to Ferguson. 

. . . .
Crime spikes in New Orleans cause concern, somewhat, for Mardi Gras krewes. Photo credit: Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

This is not the first crime spiral in the city, nor the country. In the 1990s and mid-2000s, NOLA held the record for most murders per capita in the nation. Namely, in the years of 1994 and 2007, respectively. Now, they join the likes of Chicago and Los Angeles as crime soars versus recent numbers. From 2019 to 2020, Chicago saw a 55 percent jump in murders, while this year saw an three percent increase over 2020, according to the Chicago Sun Times. While Los Angeles is currently experiencing its highest number of homicides in nearly 15 years, recording 397 murders in 2021.

With Mardi Gras around the corner, the NOPD “never fails to shine” and will be “100 percent activated,” assured former NOPD officer and current Fraternal Order of Police attorney, Donovan Livaccari.

While this may be the case, some of the elite bands of revelers who participate in parades, known as Mardi Gras krewes, are taking extra precautions. The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus announced that it is shortening their route and parade time this year for enhanced safety measures. Before the pandemic, the request for more police officers during Mardi Gras has increased over the years. In the shaky months after the height of the pandemic, an unstable economy along with decreasing police presence may alter the meaning of good times rolling in the Crescent City.

Kaia Niambi Shivers contributed to this article.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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