NEW ORLEANS – Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Tuesday joined other City officials and business and community partners to update residents on how the City is coordinating with multiple agencies to reduce and prevent crime.[WATCH: Crime prevention and reduction press conference]
“We believe that there are three key issues in working holistically to address the recent spike in crime: prevention, apprehension and intervention. This includes investing in youth, families, and community leaders to reduce the number of violent incidents; arresting those who commit violent crimes; and providing support and development programs for both youth and adults to reduce recidivism and make our communities stronger,” said Mayor Cantrell.
With COVID-19, Building on Previous Efforts
While the increase in gun violence and violent crime is not just an issue for New Orleans, the City has shown that it is a model in responding to the increase in violent crime. The Mayor noted that the local and national trends in violent crime can be traced to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with several factors at play but also which provide opportunities:
- Economic insecurity and uncertainty
- Disconnection from education and social services
- Criminal justice system stopped functioning
- Jury trials have been put on pause for 15 months but are set to begin July 6
- With that occurring, the public can volunteer for jury duty
- Call Jury Commission Office at (504) 658-9200, Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Since Mayor Cantrell took office in May 2018, the City of New Orleans has created more than 19 programs and offices to help reduce crime through holistic methods, including the establishment of the Office of Youth and Families at the beginning of the Administration, and, more recently the establishment of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Also, the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination (OCJC) has created initiatives such as the Evening Reporting Center, an alternative to incarceration that provides school programming and activities, and which takes place at the time when they are at the highest risk of reoffending or committing a crime.
The Office of Youth and Families has implemented the Pathways Program, which:
- Combines soft skill workshops with five-week paid internships over the summer
- 100 system-involved youth placed at eight different small businesses throughout the City
- Designed to increase work readiness and connect youth to opportunities they are most interested in
- These provide support for youth and minimize our people’s attachment to the criminal justice system
These steps underscore the Administration’s commitment to thinking more holistically about public safety, and crime in particular.
Overall, more than $37 million has been invested in these programs that will help reduce the amount of violent crime here in New Orleans. Mayor Cantrell also noted the Universal Basic Income (UBI) Pilot program, in which $500,000 will be imbursed over 10 months for young people ages 16-24 who are disconnected from work and school, beginning in the fall.
Leveraging Funding to Reduce Crime
The City is continuing to work to secure funding from several resources as part of this plan. This includes leveraging funds from the American Rescue Plan to hire additional police officers and increase overtime pay. Further, the City will be able to coordinate with violent gun crime task forces related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the integrated intelligence of these agencies; and the utilization of prosecuting in federal court, according to Col. Terry Ebbert, Director, Public Safety & Homeland Security.
The City also has joined Boston as one of two U.S. cities to receive a Securing the Cities Program grant – a five-year, $10 million grant that can fund efforts to focus detecting weapons of mass destruction, in coordination with federal agencies and partners.
This is in addition to the $1 million approved by City Council last week to add 70 public safety cameras to help identify violent offenders and illegal dumpers.
Col. Ebbert also stressed the need to increase efforts to improve public safety recruiting.
These funds do not include, Mayor Cantrell noted, the $70 million in public safety expenditures that were approved but never paid by the State. Those funds, she said, are critical in continuing the work that we have already started in reducing gun violence and improving public safety. For example, these funds can go towards the City’s alternative dispatch system, because:
- Fewer than 4% of calls for service are related to violent crime.
- Data from Orleans Parish Communication District in 2019 suggests that there are at least 3,000 calls that would likely be more appropriate for an emergency response rather than involving an immediate New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) presence.
- Our current 911/311 system does not allow for dispatch of alternative trained professionals.
- This would allow NOPD, Emergency Medical Services, and other critical public safety responders to focus more on violent crime.
Funds can also go towards strengthening the programs the City already has created and increased its public safety bandwidth. Mayor Cantrell will seek to expand the toolkit for law enforcement, including the build-out of the NOPD data analysis team. Mayor Cantrell also will seek the help of OPCD and partner agencies to strengthen the technological connectivity and communication between agencies. OPCD currently is finalizing work on a universal records management system that will be a huge leap forward in this regard.
Working with Partners for Coordination and Accountability
At the state level, Mayor Cantrell is pushing for greater resources and greater accountability for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), in order to ensure coordination and accountability at every level, and with every stakeholder. Where DCFS is underfunded or lacking bandwidth, she noted, there is a risk of people falling through the cracks.
City partners in this work include Silence Is Violence, which has emphasized the need for funding and for focus on creating safety for victims – safe houses and resources to lift them out of dangerous environments.
Also, NOPD has created the Violent Crime Abatement Investigation Team (V-CAIT) and District Community Action Teams (D-CATs). These, along with other apprehension-related efforts, have helped get NOPD to a homicide solve rate of almost 60% as of May 2021. NOPD also has been working to enhance and improve the Homicide division. The results: the Cold Case unit cleared four cases in 2019 and two cases in 2020; the Unit has cleared nine cases so far this year.
A More Holistic Approach
But, as Mayor Cantrell has stressed for years, NOPD cannot do the work alone. She continued to call for the City, NOPD, the courts, Orleans Parish Sheriff, and even social media influencers to work together to reduce crime and keep residents safe, healthy and thriving. She commended city business leaders for joining in this challenge.
Mayor Cantrell was joined by Joshua Cox, Director of Strategic Initiatives; Patrick Young, Director, Office of Gun Violence Prevention; Dr. Jennifer Avegno, Director, New Orleans Health Department; Supt. Shaun Ferguson, NOPD; Emily Wolff, Director, Office of Youth & Families; Tyrell Morris, Executive Director, Orleans Parish Communication District; Denise Chandler, Safety and Justice Challenge Project Director, Office of Criminal Justice Coordination; Pastor Pat Watson, Evening Reporting Center; Robin Hayes, Silence Is Violence; Pres Kabacoff, HRI Properties; David Rubenstein, Rubenstein’s; and Robert Alford, Alford Advertising.