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Report finds NOPD ranks are ‘dangerously low’

3rd December 2013   ·   0 Comments

The Metropolitan Crime Commission said in a recent report that arrests in New Orleans took another dive in the first half of 2013.

The commission’s latest semi-annual report compares 60,000 total arrests reported by the New Orleans Police Department in 2009 to about half that number during the 12 months ending in June.

The dip in NOPD arrests is believed to be part of a trend that underscores the city’s dwindling NOPD ranks.

Total arrests fell by nine percent from the first half of 2011 to the same period this year, and arrests for violent felonies dropped by 12 percent.

One of the more alarming trends is a 13 percent rise in the number of “person crimes,” which include murders, rapes, robberies and assaults.

Commission President Rafael Goyeneche says the numbers show arrests are down, not because the city is getting safer, but because there are not enough cops.

Go yeneche said that official statistics show overall crime is up three percent.

According to the report, more than 300 police have left the force since Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010.

“You can affect things by your actions or inactions. The (arrest) numbers are a reflection of policy decisions made, by not hiring new officers,” Goyeneche said. “It’s our position that the arrests, particularly felony arrests, being down is a direct by-product of a 35-year staffing low.”

“NOPD manpower is the biggest challenge facing public safety in New Orleans,” Goyeneche told nola.com. “It’s the single most important issue.”

City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who chairs he council’s Criminal Justice Committee, told nola.com that part of the problem with the depleted NOPD ranks is a result of the city’s financial difficulties. “We were in a very, very tight budget time, and the mayor was choosing not to add to the police force, and we went along with that,” she explained.

New Orleans City Council president Jackie Clarkson told nola.com that she hopes efforts to suspend the Orleans Parish residency rule will allow Chief Serpas to boost the NOPD’s ranks.

“The ball’s in the chief’s court — he’s got to recruit and retain officers,” Clarkson said.

The Associated Press reported that when asked to explain the lower arrest rates, a spokesman for Landrieu’s office deferred questions to the Police Department, where a spokeswoman declined to address the issue.

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas that said the troubled police department, which is under a federally mandated consent decree, has pushed for three years to reduce arrests for low-level crimes where summonses are appropriate, in order “to reduce city (taxpayers’) expenses.” Serpas added that he was pleased that the mayor’s proposed 2014 budget “allows the department to actively hire at least 150 new officers.”

The image of the city’s police department took a major hit after several high-profile post-Katrina murder cases involving nearly two dozen members of the NOPD. Two of the cases were the Danziger Bridge shootings, which took place on Sept. 4, 2005 on an eastern New Orleans bridge less than a week after Hurricane Katrina and involved the killing of two unarmed civilians and the wounding of four others, and the Henry Glover case, in which an Algiers was shot by an officer in the parking lot of a strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005, and was later found dead in a burned car on the Mississippi River levee. The officers convicted in both cases been granted new trials.

The mayor signed a NOPD consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice during the summer of 2012 but has subsequently tried to convince a federal judge to vacate the consent decree. The mayor has argued that the city cannot afford to pay for NOPD and Orleans Parish Prison consent decrees, that the NOPD consent-decree negotiation process was tainted by the involvement of several federal prosecutors who resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s Office after it was discovered that they had inappropriately posted comments online about several active DOJ cases and that the NOPD no longer needs a consent decree because it has already begun the process of reforming itself.

The federal courts disagreed and rejected the mayor’s arguments.

“Despite its ongoing problems, the NOPD continues to deny first of all that there is a problem and has defiantly resisted efforts by the Justice Department to completely overhaul what can only be described as a corrupt, completely dysfunctional police department that continues to subject New Orleans residents to unconstitutional policing,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former congressional candidate and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly in a recent interview. “A complete overhaul of the NOPD and its paid detail system are way past due.”

“The big question is what’s going to happen to residents in low-income and working-class neighborhoods who are already not a priority for the NOPD?” the Rev. Raymond Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “Something’s gotta give. What are we going to do when even more of the NOPD’s resources are used to keep rich and upper-middle class people safe?

“Not everyone can afford to live in gated communities or hire private security to patrol their neighborhood,” Brown added. “And they shouldn’t have to — they go to work every day and pay taxes.”

This article originally published in the December 2, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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