The crime problem in New Orleans is hardly new and there is some good news, as the murder rate is down to a 40-year low. Yet do people feel they are safer? The answer right now is an emphatic no. And with late-night shootings and robberies in the French Quarter, the notion of damaging the enormous economic engine that is tourism in New Orleans is worrisome. It’s an issue that compromises the international image of the whole state — and its ability to attract visitors and investment.
High-profile incidents in the Quarter and in the Central Business District are often captured on surveillance cameras and circulated widely by social media, so those cause concern in every area of the city.
The threat is not just to tourism or the Quarter. New Orleans is booming, neighborhoods are becoming more vibrant, and property values are climbing, but all of that can be erased if people are afraid to live and work and party in the city.
Like the Buffa’s manager who had a laser-sight on his chest in last week’s armed robbery, people don’t just feel in danger, they are in danger.
What is the answer? Not one thing alone, but more of what is currently being done and a more comprehensive approach from the city administration.
The most urgent problem is that Mayor Mitch Landrieu has allowed the department to shrink in size, year after year, so that it now numbers fewer than 1,200 officers. That’s well short of the 1,600 that many folks have long thought to be the desirable goal.
The force has been boosted, on and off in 2014, by a contingent of State Police. The troopers have been a welcome addition, and they will be back in force next month for Carnival.
But the mayor seems to want more lasting aid from the state and has asked that the troopers remain in the city.
The state should help out, for everyone in Louisiana has an interest in protecting the economy of New Orleans. But it should demand that New Orleans produce a detailed and realistic plan to rebuild the size of its police force.
The city says it can add 150 officers per year, but that won’t grow the force fast enough because about 100 officers retire or leave every year.
A strategic plan must be regional: NOPD ought to be able to get help from their brethren at the state level but also from other agencies in the city and in neighboring parishes. The state should insist that the mayor seek help more broadly.
Another way the state can help the city is to remove some of the obstacles the mayor faces in asking his voters to tax themselves for law enforcement. The mayor of New Orleans should be able to pitch his voters for more taxes without having to get permission from folks in Lake Charles or Lake Providence.
We are encouraged by the steps taken by Landrieu and the City Council and new Police Superintendent Michael Harrison. He’s reassigned 22 officers from administration to street patrol and boosted a task force that works overnight protecting hot spots; the mayor and council added 5 percent to police pay and pledged to do more as the economy and thus tax collections improve.
The good news is that one of the recent incidents Uptown that made headlines led almost immediately to the arrest of four teens. Troubled as it has been, NOPD has dedicated officers who do fine work. As the signs around the Quarter attest, New Orleans loves its police. It just needs more.