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As violent crime surges in New Orleans, city officials continue to point fingers

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As gun violence and carjackings continue to surge across New Orleans, city leaders gathered Wednesday afternoon to again address the issue of violent crime, the latest in a series of hearings and news conferences during which officials have pointed fingers at one another.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Superintendent of Police Shaun Ferguson appeared as a united front, calling for more collaboration between law enforcement agencies.

“We hear our community loud and clear,” Cantrell said. “We understand that the terrorism that’s been happening in our streets, and to our people, is absolutely unacceptable. Now is not the time to demonstrate a lack of support for our police officers.”

Ferguson outlined a number of measures the New Orleans Police Department has identified to address the violence, including enhancing district community action teams to play a “proactive” role in addressing crime, expanding the scope of its data analytics unit, as well as potentially extending patrols to 12-hour shifts in order to “increase visibility” for officers and “reduce call times” for residents.

He also suggested that the department will further utilize the city’s extensive network of surveillance cameras, and called on the City Council to amend an ordinance he said limited NOPD’s ability to use the technology.

Throughout the meeting, Cantrell emphasized the need for increased accountability. When asked who, specifically, is dropping the ball, the mayor did not answer directly but said the NOPD continually finds itself arresting the same people, citing a lack of bonds set and few jury trials on the calendar.

“We can arrest all day long, but if people don’t move through that process and be held accountable, we’re only going to see ourselves right back here,” Cantrell said.

The press conference follows weeks of back and forth between Cantrell, Ferguson, City Council members and Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams about how to tackle increased violent crime.

At a Council meeting on Jan. 20, Ferguson said he was working on a “proactive” plan, but provided few details afterward, according to NOLA.com.

On Monday, Helena Moreno and JP Morrell, the Council’s at-large members, issued a joint statement criticizing Ferguson for failing to deliver a plan to address the surge in violent crime.

“The people of this city need to be assured that the Chief is taking major steps to reduce violence,” Moreno said in the statement. “We need a plan now.”

Beau Tidwell, communications director for the mayor’s office, said at a Tuesday press conference that the focus on pinning down a “plan” has become misleading.

“It implies that NOPD does not have a plan currently in place,” Tidwell said. “There has been a crime plan in place, and there will continue to be so.”

Tidwell noted that NOPD cannot disclose tactical details for security reasons, and said that Ferguson has Cantrell’s full support. He also said that a press conference scheduled for last week with Ferguson and Cantrell was cancelled because Ferguson was ill.

Williams, who was not at the Wednesday hearing, emphasized the need for “smart on crime” policies rather than “tough on crime” ones on Louisiana Considered last week, advocating for a reorganization of resources away from charging “crimes of addiction, crimes of poverty,” toward focusing on “prosecuting people who are hurting people.”

Williams also expressed his support for reviving a controversial special unit to target gangs and to lengthen sentences for carjacking cases, straying from campaign promises to be a progressive prosecutor.

The rate of violent crime — particularly crimes involving guns — has risen significantly since this time last year, according to data from the City Council’s Crime Dashboard. As of Feb. 2, carjackings were up 104% compared to that date last year; homicides with firearms were up nearly 19%.

Feb. 3, 2022. 12:45pm. This story was updated to reflect the most current statistics from the city's crime dashboard.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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