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A Safer City

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We are maintaining a recovery index on post-Katrina New Orleans, and are staying with our estimate of the last two months at 35 percent. While the population has crept up over 35 percent of its pre-Katrina count, we feel as though services have not kept up. Of greater concern is that crime seems to be back in New Orleans after a too-brief reprieve.

New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Warren Riley announced the city’s first-quarter crime statistics on Friday. He asserts that, even though crime in New Orleans has risen as the population has grown, the city is still much safer than it was before Hurricane Katrina.

Anticipating the argument that the decrease was insignificant because population is dramatically down in the city, Riley produced figures that he said show that even adjusting for the lower population, violent crime is still down about 26 percent from the first quarter of 2005.

Criminologist Peter Scharf reflects the skepticism of a public that has long distrusted police crime statistics. “If this is Pleasantville,” Scharf said of New Orleans, “we’re in deep trouble.”

Is this Pleasantville? From 2002 through when Katrina hit the city in 2005, New Orleans’ murder rate was nearly eight times the national average, and the highest per capita city homicide rate in the United States. For perspective, New Orleans averaged about 59 people killed per year per 100,000 citizen, compared to New York City’s seven.

Are we “under-policed?” Before Katrina the city had about 1,450 police for a population of about 460,000 or about 3.2 officers per 1,000 residents. This compares to a national average of 2.3, and an average for larger cities of about 2.8. Currently there are about 1,200 police for a population of about 180,000 or about 6.7 officers per 1,000 residents.

While it is estimated that 80 percent of city cops lost their homes to Katrina, NOPD still seems to be functioning better than the rest of New Orleans’ criminal justice system.

Criminal Court is not expected to reopen for another month. Work on the state prosecutor’s building, police headquarters and other facilities has not yet begun. Only one of the city’s 10 jails is fully functional. NOPD’s temporary headquarters is a collection of trailers at a vehicle inspection station.

We will keep you posted.

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About John Vinturella

Retired businessman and professor.