Mayor Mitch Landrieu pledged a renewed focus on public safety in 2016 as he wrapped up the events of 2015 at a news conference Wednesday, arguing that while crime remains at levels that alarm many New Orleanians, the city is safer now than in previous years.
Praising a decrease in the overall crime rate — though one that has been questioned for various reasons, including that long response times mean some crimes may be going unacknowledged — Landrieu said next year’s focus will be on continuing to drive down the amount of crime in the city.
The fact the overall crime rate is lower “doesn’t ring true for a mother who lost her son to violence or a young family that is too afraid to sit on their front porch,” Landrieu said. “That is why in partnership with the City Council we will double down on public safety and spend all of our energy to fight crime.”
Landrieu acknowledged that crime has been a challenge for the city this year, calling a dramatic spike in armed robberies and carjackings “unnerving” and part of a national trend that has puzzled analysts. But he argued that crime overall has been on a downward swing for the past five years, even as murders have risen above last year’s rate.
For decades, New Orleans has been among the most violent cities in the country, Landrieu said. “We have to continue to hammer on this until we create a city of peace,” he said.
Landrieu said he will continue to focus on efforts such as NOLA for Life, the city’s murder-reduction strategy, and Ceasefire, which focuses on reducing street violence, as well as efforts with federal authorities to break up violent gangs.
The discussion of violent crime came as Landrieu touted his administration’s successes in 2015 in remarks aimed at wrapping up the year and looking ahead at future priorities.
Prominent in the speech were what Landrieu described as “generational” accomplishments and the end of long-standing disputes.
Chief among these was reaching a settlement in a 35-year-old lawsuit brought by firefighters seeking $75 million in back pay. That deal, resolving a claim that has hung over city finances for decades, was reached as the city was starting its budget discussions in the fall and, with the hoped-for passage of a tax in the spring, is expected to pay off the debt over a bit more than a decade.
Also on the positive side of the balance sheet, the administration secured an additional $1.2 billion from FEMA for sewer and street repairs this year, wrapping up one of the last major settlements related to damage from the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina.
The commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the storm — and the visits of President Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as part of those ceremonies — also rated a mention in Landrieu’s list of accomplishments. Those ceremonies also served as the launching point for the city’s new Resiliency Plan, which Landrieu said is intended to ensure the city can grapple with challenges, including rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
Landrieu also cited progress on major projects — notably building of a new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport and the redevelopment of the vacant World Trade Center building — that have been bandied about for decades, as well as newer projects, such as the opening of the University Medical Center.
He also touched on economic development efforts and policies including workforce training and recruitment efforts, local hiring requirements, an increase in the minimum wage for city contracts and new policies to support disadvantaged businesses.
“We’re going to make sure prosperity touches every area of this city because, as I’ve said, if we don’t go forward together, it’s hard to go forward at all, and we can’t leave anybody behind,” the mayor said.
Landrieu did not directly touch in his prepared remarks on the debate over removing four Confederate monuments that has engulfed the city for the past six months, though he secured the support of the City Council last week to remove the statues.
Asked about them, Landrieu said he is confident the city will defeat a court challenge aimed at blocking their removal and will continue efforts to come up with a framework for evaluating other monuments in the city.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.