New Orleans police took more than 13 hours Sunday to respond to a burglary at the New Movement Theater on St. Claude Avenue and nearly eight hours to respond to a similar break-in Tuesday at the same venue.
In both instances, police arrived at the theater about 3 a.m. and, after finding no one there, marked the complaints as “unfounded.”
By Wednesday morning, three days after the initial break-in, theater management still had not met with an officer or received a police report it could use to make an insurance claim, despite repeated calls to the 5th District station.
“I’m still furious,” said manager Nick Napolitano, who said he waited all day Sunday for the NOPD to send an officer after the first burglary. “It just really seemed like they didn’t care. I appreciate that they’re overworked, but it’s still just frustrating.”
The New Movement Theater at 2706 St. Claude is known for its long-form improv and stand-up routines, billing itself as the “nerve center of the New Orleans comedy scene.”
Its experience with the authorities this week seemed to its management more like a farce, one that highlighted the at-times alarming limitations of the understaffed New Orleans Police Department.
“The city wants the arts community and small business in general to reinvest in the St. Claude corridor and in the Marigny and Bywater” neighborhoods, Napolitano said. “We signed a 10-year lease on that building and are committed for the long haul, but it’s a little nerve-wracking when you’ve got no support.”
The NOPD’s handling of the theater break-ins is hardly unique, as the department has seen its officers stretched thin trying to deal with a climbing murder rate and high rates of other crimes with the lowest staffing level the force has had in more than three decades.
In 2014, it often took hours — and in at least a few cases, almost two days — for officers to show up to gather information about burglaries, many of which appear to have been written off when the victims finally gave up on waiting and left, according to an analysis by The New Orleans Advocate of 2014 police calls.
Residents had to wait, on average, more than 2 hours and 45 minutes for the NOPD to respond to a burglary call last year, while business owners on average could get officers on the scene in about 1 hour and 12 minutes.
Even those relatively lengthy waits tell only part of the story. Cases with lengthy wait times were much more likely to end with the victim leaving the scene and officers simply noting that the complainant was “gone on arrival,” or marking the case as “unfounded” for reasons that could include a lack of anyone to speak with on the scene.
In three business burglaries last year, officers simply noted that there was no victim on the scene after arriving an average of more than nine hours after the initial call. Another 70 cases were marked as “unfounded,” just as the New Movement Theater cases were, after officers showed up on the scene an average of three hours and 25 minutes after being called.
Residential burglaries saw a similar pattern.
About 680 residents whose burglary reports were marked as unfounded had to wait an average of four hours and 42 minutes for the NOPD to appear, while the 21 victims marked as having left would have had to have waited almost six hours before an officer arrived.
Together, those groups make up about 25 percent of all residential burglary calls reported in the city last year. It is unclear whether those cases were ever picked up at a later date.
In the New Movement Theater break-ins, Napolitano said about $2,000 in cash and electronics were stolen in the two burglaries. The doors of the theater’s rear entrances, upstairs and downstairs, were kicked in, and the burglar or burglars made off with the cash box, the safe, an iPad used for credit card transactions and an Apple MacBook.
The first break-in appears to have occurred about 10:17 a.m. Sunday and was reported by theater management at 1:42 p.m. “It seems like whoever broke in knew that we weren’t going to be there during the day,” Napolitano said.
After waiting a couple of hours, Napolitano said, he telephoned the 5th District about 3:30 p.m. to check in and “got no real answer from the desk officer.” He said the officer promised to check with a dispatcher. Napolitano called again at 5:30 p.m., he said, and learned that officers were busy responding to an emergency call but would respond “as soon as possible.”
Napolitano said he stayed until about 11:30 p.m., at which point no officers had arrived or called to say when they would be there.
Tyler Gamble, an NOPD spokesman, said an officer was not dispatched to investigate the burglary until 2:53 a.m. — 13 hours and 11 minutes after the department received the complaint.
“They arrived on scene, looked for anyone to speak with and made callbacks,” Gamble said. “Nobody answered the phone call, and no one was available on-site.” He said the department is “looking into what may have caused the delay” in the response.
The second break-in happened some time Tuesday and was reported to the NOPD at 7:26 p.m. Again, Napolitano said, police showed no urgency in responding. At one point, he said, a desk officer at the 5th District told him: “I don’t know what’s going on 100 percent of the time, but I’ll check with the dispatcher. Besides that, I don’t know what to tell you, brother.”
Gamble said the department finally sent an officer to investigate the Tuesday break-in at 3:13 a.m. Wednesday. The officer again found no one at the theater and marked the complaint as “unfounded.”
Police were said to be returning to the theater Wednesday afternoon after receiving calls from the news media.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.