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Homicides rise in Orleans, Jeff. parishes

3rd January 2017   ·   0 Comments

Despite efforts to curb violent crime, homicides rose in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes in 2016.

Although the murder rate in Jefferson Parish is nowhere near the number of homicides committed in New Orleans this year, JP’s spike in killings are a major cause for concern, officials say.

WWL News reported last week that homicides in unincorporated Jefferson Parish were up 59 percent through December 26 over the number recorded in all of 2015. Parish crime numbers do not include incorporated areas like Westwego and Kenner that maintain their own police departments.

As of Monday, there have been 43 homicides in Jefferson Parish. If that number were to hold up through Dec. 31, it would represent a 59 percent spike from the 27 killings recorded in 2015.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said last week that the homicide tally is still within the range in which it normally trends.

Jefferson Parish reported 42 murders in 2014, and 43 in 2013.

Forty-three murders would be well below the record 66 homicides tallied in 2006.

Despite the sharp rise in murders, other crimes are reportedly down in unincorporated Jefferson Parish and is likely to hit its lowest rate since 1974, building on another historic low in 2015.

Crimes in every other major category reported to the FBI was down through the end of November in unincorporated Jefferson Parish, according to statistics provided by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Burglaries dropped 21 percent this year and there was a nine percent drop in rapes. Assaults dropped 7.6 percent there were slight drops in thefts, and robberies.

Some callers to a number of local radio talk shows suggested last week that “the criminal element” in New Orleans may be responsible for the 59 percent rise in Jefferson Parish homicides in 2016.

The sentiment is reminiscent of the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, who vowed to stop Black motorists his deputies encountered in upscale white neighborhoods. While Lee defended the practice as common-sense policing, his statements set off a firestorm of criticism from civil rights leaders and justice advocates.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if the law enforcement agency engages in unconstitutional policing that violates the rights of people of color in Jefferson Parish.

For its part, New Orleans has eclipsed last year’s 164 homicides and has seen a sharp rise in non-fatal shootings in 2016.

With almost 480 shootings and 175 killings in 2016, WWL crime analyst Jeff Asher says this year has been rough for New Orleans and crime.

“I would describe the year as bad or worrisome,” he said. “Shootings are up around 23 percent and murders are up around seven to eight percent. We’ve had more shootings than any year on record and the record only starts in 2010. Murders are still down from the peaks of 2011 and 2012 when we averaged about 190 murders per year, but we’re up almost 18 percent from 2014 when we sort of hit around 150 murders.”

The year isn’t ending on a positive note either.

“We’ve had 15 people shot in 10 incidents since Monday (Dec. 26) morning,” Asher said.

Some say the City of New Orleans has done very little to address the root causes of crime.

“You don’t have jobs, you don’t have access to education, you don’t have access to mental health services,” resident Jessica Baity told WWL. “So if we’re not going to invest in those things, then of course we’re always going to have crime.”

Even more troubling is a series of shootings on Bourbon Street over the past few years that have police and local elected officials scrambling to keep tourists, locals, French Quarter workers and business owners safe.

The most recent Bourbon Street shootings include the killing of a Baton Rouge resident in town during the Bayou Classic and the non-fatal shooting of a man on Bourbon Street last month.

With major tourist draws like the Sugar Bowl and Mardi Gras looming, authorities have stepped up efforts to improve public safety in the French Quarter.

Those efforts will include an increased police presence and restrictions on driving in certain parts of the Vieux Carré.

After the shooting over the Bayou Classic weekend, authorities and elected officials talked about the possibility of creating “safety zones” in the French Quarters to keep locals and visitors safe and potentially conducting gun searches in a manner similar to what Memphis police do on Beale Street.

With regard to the higher police presence and driving restrictions in place for the Sugar Bowl and New Year’s Eve celebrations, local criminologist Dr. Peter Sharf told FOX 8 News that he is not certain that these measures will be enough to prevent all violent crime from marring the big weekend.

New Orleans police said they will have 100 percent staffing throughout the city, including 12-hour shifts for officers working in the French Quarter. State police said they will double the number of troopers in the Quarter, as well.

“It’s good. Is it enough? We hope so is all you can say, and again, the history of the Quarter of attacks going back to the one two years ago [are] these non-ideological attacks,” Sharf told FOX 8.

To illustrate his point, Sharf pointed to the Bayou Classic weekend shooting when 10 were shot and one man killed, despite an overwhelming police presence.

“You had 40 police officers in a three-block area before the Bayou Classic attack, and they were unable to avert this, so is this back to the future again?” Sharf said.

Chuck Robinson, the owner of Napoleon’s Itch on Bourbon Street, was in the blocked-off section of the French Quarter over the weekend. He knows there’s a lot police can do, but they don’t have a silver bullet against crime.

“No one is going to be able to stop every random act, every lone wolf shooter. We hope that’s not the case, but everyone’s got to be observant,” Robinson told FOX 8..

In fact, Robinson and other business owners in the 700 block of Bourbon took security into their own hands recently after violence threatened their employees and the bottom line.

“We were in trouble. Three months ago, revenue was falling, staff was afraid. We took matters into our own hands. We will have that security in effect all weekend, it’s every weekend,” Robinson said.

He said their paid police presence in the last few months has made a big difference, calling the 700 block of Bourbon the safest section of the Quarter.

But Sharf told FOX 8 News that he thinks too much police presence, like the tactical units patrolling over the New Year’s Eve weekend, could have the potential to backfire.

“You kill a golden goose through prevention in a way, you know?” Sharf said. “The second thing is that if somebody starts shooting, do you want people with AK-47s, M-16s, whatever it is, to respond, and that is you could actually make it worse,” Sharf said.

Still, Robinson thinks safety is the first priority, even if it means significant changes in the Quarter.

“It may come to that, it may come to that. I hope that we don’t become that much of a police state, but if it has to be to protect lives in this precious 10 by 12 blocks, then it will have to be, and everyone will have to realize it,” Robinson said.

This article originally published in the January 2, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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