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Residents concerned despite fewer N.O. murders

29th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

Data compiled by The New Orleans Advocate shows the city’s 2014 murder count was 38 as of April 18.

The figure, which comes as the New Orleans Police Department grapples with a manpower shortage and an image problem, is a 21 percent decrease from the 48 murders in the city by the same point last year.

One hundred and fifty-six murders were reported in 2013, the lowest total since 1985.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu attributes the progress to his administration’s “NOLA for Life programs.” Those include various resources, including job fairs, education and recreational activities for people likely to be caught up in street violence.

“I can’t honestly tell you that we know, measurably, which one of these things is contributing to which particular reduction in murder, but all of them together seem to be moving us in the right direction,” Landrieu said.

The anti-violence campaign continues to expand. Last year, it added a crisis intervention program at the Interim LSU Hospital Trauma Unit. The program is designed to mediate conflicts among surviving victims of gun violence.

“That (hospitalized) individual often is sort of a captive audience for a period of time, but you’re also likely going to see their family members. You’re going to see their friends as they come through to check on them,” Charles West, who leads Landrieu’s Innovation Delivery Team, told The New Orleans Advocate.

Mark VanLandingham, a public health professor at Tulane University who has studied the city’s crime patterns, said the decline, following last year’s dip, “is very impressive and encouraging.” He said it represents “an additional piece of evidence that suggests that New Orleans could be on the cusp of a profound and sustainable decline in our murder rate.”

The numbers are particularly encouraging because the first few months of the year historically have been among the bloodiest in New Orleans, said Dee Wood Harper, a professor emeritus of sociology and criminology at Loyola University. The commonly held belief that the “summer is hotter” when it comes to murder, Harper added, “doesn’t really hold in New Orleans since we have a fairly hot climate year round.”

Dr. Peter Scharf, a Tulane University criminologist , told The New Orleans Advocate last week that he is not convinced that the city’s intervention and outreach efforts have had an immediate impact on the murder rate. A more likely contributor, he said, has been the attention the U.S. Attorney’s Office has paid to notorious gangs and the collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in targeting violent gangsters and drug traffickers. “It has to do with the force of the federal hammer,” Scharf said.

While some have praised the city’s lower murder rate, other residents have been too pre-occupied with news stories about the rise in home invasions, armed robberies and other violent crimes to celebrate the drop in the city’s murder rate.

A dismal record by the city’s 811 call center has also left residents on edge.

Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor for public safety and emergency preparedness told nola.com last week that the city has already begun hiring 10 additional 911 call operators and is recruiting additional personnel.

“Our public safety agencies are aggressively working to increase operator staffing and to improve our call center management performance,” Sneed said in a statement. “The safety of our residents is always a top priority.”

“There may be fewer people being murdered in New Orleans but there are still a lot of violent criminals running around terrorizing the public,” Stephanie Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “The good news is murders are down — the bad news is that violent crime is up.”

“It’s kind of hard to feel safe even with reports about the lower numbers when you hear about people getting their front doors kicked in and the cops never showing up or taking several hours to get there,” Melanie Burns, a mother of three, told The Louisiana Weekly. “It makes it very hard to feel safe, even behind closed doors.”

Malcolm Jackson, a Gentilly resident, says he tries to keep an eye out for trouble but knows that it’s impossible to control everything.

“You can feel it — the city’s not as safe as it was before Katrina,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “Part of it is probably the result of tearing down the city’s housing projects and destabilizing neighborhoods that had once been safe, but you can’t corral poor people like rats in cages and have criminals turning on innocent, poor people. The other part is a lack of mental health care services and a deep-seated distrust for local police.”

“Very few people in this city respect the NOPD because people have seen firsthand what the cops are capable of,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “We know the stories of Henry Glover, the Danziger Bridge shootings, Adolph Grimes, Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen and those two boys who were attacked by local police and state troopers in the French Quarter last year (Ferdinand Hunt and Sidney Newman). We have seen the local justice system allow cops and whites like Merritt Landry get away with racially profiling, assaulting and murdering Black people, so many of us are hesitant to help police when we witness crimes.”

Growing concern about the rise in violent crime and the city’s shrinking police force prompted the New Orleans City Council to vote 6-1 on April 10 to relax the city’s domicile rule in order to recruit cops, freighters and EMS workers in surrounding parishes

In other NOPD-related news, a veteran police sergeant has been arrested on child pornography charges.

According to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, 54-year-old Bradley Wax was booked Wednesday with 38 counts of possessing pornography involving juveniles. Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. George Bonnett confirms Wax was at the St. Tammany Parish jail. It was unclear if he has an attorney.

WWL-TV reported that Wax is a 16-year veteran assigned to the police department’s 4th District. According to the attorney general’s office, an undercover operation led investigators to get a search warrant for Wax’s home in January. Investigators later found child pornography on his computer and other electronic devices.

Wax is on emergency suspension without pay pending the outcome of an ongoing criminal investigation. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison on each count.

A second officer, five-year NOPD veteran Marcel Albert, was expected to turn himself in late last week to be arrested on a charge of domestic abuse. He has been suspended without pay, according to Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook.

The Orleans District Attorney’s Office filed a bill of information Wednesday following an internal investigation by the Public Integrity Bureau.

Albert is charged with domestic abuse battery involving strangulation. No other details were released.

Albert is the brother of NOPD Deputy Chief Darryl Albert.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the April 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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