New Orleans officials announce major crackdown amid crime wave
Responding to residents’ outrage over a sharp increase in crime that claimed nine lives in the first eight days of 2007, Mayor C. Ray Nagin announced a slate of crime-fighting initiatives Tuesday, two days before a planned residents’ march on City Hall.
“We are drawing a line in the sand and saying we’ve had it,” Nagin told reporters at a briefing held at the site of the year’s first slaying -- that of a man who was shot in the head on the evening of Jan. 1.
The measures, which Nagin said would be implemented immediately, include increasing police foot patrols and installing 50 surveillance cameras -- and up to 200 by the end of the year -- in crime hot spots. Nagin pledged to expedite the prosecution of murder cases, and said police would conduct random checks of residents for drugs and alcohol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., when 30% of the city’s violent crimes reportedly occur.
Nagin was joined at the announcement by the police chief, City Council members, community leaders and representatives of the criminal justice system. He said they had all spent the last several days meeting to devise a cohesive strategy to tackle crime.
“We are here to say collectively that one murder is too many,” Nagin said. “We will put all our resources to focus on murders and violent crime.... everything we have.”
The anti-crime program is also to include “community walks” by police and city officials to promote residents’ participation in the effort, and a clergy-led No Way Out program to offer young people ways to avoid getting involved in violence. Church leaders also pledged to offer moral support to murder victims’ families.
“We want to try and create a contagious compassion,” said the Rev. John C. Raphael Jr., who recently staged a hunger strike to protest crime in his Central City neighborhood.
A Court Watchers program, in which residents would monitor murder cases “from arrest to adjudication,” was another facet of the plan, Nagin said.
“Everybody involved will come under the microscope under this program,” said Councilman James Carter, who organized a summit last year on fighting crime.
Orleans Parish Dist. Atty. Eddie Jordan, often said to take too long to prosecute murder cases, said his office had finished hiring staff for a new violent offender prosecution unit, and had created a homicide division to help bring cases to trial quickly.
Police Supt. Warren Riley promised his department would provide Jordan’s office with the necessary evidence and comprehensive police reports within 28 days to help speed up prosecutions.
Riley added that his department was trying to attract veteran officers from across the country to join the New Orleans police force, which has operated under a cloud of negative publicity since Hurricane Katrina.
On Tuesday, police officials announced the investigation of seven officers accused of beating a community activist in the French Quarter on Dec. 30.
And last month, six officers and one former policeman were charged with varying counts of murder and attempted murder in connection with a shooting on a city bridge in the turmoil that followed Hurricane Katrina. Two other officers, charged in another alleged beating in the French Quarter last year, are scheduled to be tried in March.
Also Tuesday, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) announced a 10-point anti-crime plan that included a proposed increase in the number of federal agents assigned to New Orleans, and more federal money for police training and technology.
The announcements of the new crime-fighting measures came two days before a march on City Hall planned for Thursday by residents who say they are angry, frightened and frustrated by what they see as a lack of action by city officials.
Joseph Victor, 41, and his grandmother Hattie Jackson, 79, who live close to where the year’s first slaying occurred, were standing on the sidewalk across the street. They said many residents were living in fear.
“It’s disheartening, because everyone is trying to put their lives back together after the storm, and they can’t even walk to the corner,” Victor said.
“These days, I don’t go too far,” Jackson said.
Neighborhood residents Terrance Garrison and Lamark Pierre, who waited to hear the mayor’s comments, said they would like to see better opportunities for jobs, mentorships and recreation.
Both men were dubious about the fanfare over the new initiatives and expressed skepticism that the measures, such as greater police presence and community outreach programs, would actually bring change.
“You hear a lot about programs,” Garrison said. “But after the cameras are gone, you don’t see nobody no more.”