Advocate staff photo by A.J. SISCO -- Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

New Orleans, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro assures us, is “literally drowning in gunfire.”

That can only mean that the criminal gangs of New Orleans are bringing out water cannon.

Rival drug dealers have long been spraying the mean streets, but hitherto it has been with bullets. Now they are evidently exchanging jets of water.

Sadly, it ain't so. Water cannons are ill-suited for liquidating purposes, and Cannizzaro hardly needs to be told that the best way to drown an enemy involves cement shoes and a drive to the wharf.

All that Cannizzaro does needs to be told is what “literally” means. If you drown in gunfire, you departed this life in a metaphor, and a murky one at that.

If only the gangsters were laying down their AK-47s. Instead, the city government faces another upsurge in violent crime, and government, in Cannizzaro's view, remains supine.

That was the theme of a stemwinder Cannizzaro delivered last week. He couldn't have chosen a more sympathetic audience — he was the star turn at the Metropolitan Crime Commission's annual awards luncheon — but the rapturous reception showed that his words were well chosen. Well, most of them.

Recent events had set him up to deliver a blast. With 50 shootings, and 15 murders in the first 23 days of the year, the city is on pace to record a level of carnage not seen in many years.

Meanwhile, the City Council cuts the DA's budget by $600,000 and Mayor Mitch Landrieu comes up with a crime-fighting plan that includes more money for parking enforcement. Government was practically begging to be mocked, and Cannizzaro obliged.

While he was speaking, a trial was being held close by at federal court that featured lurid testimony about a string of murders committed in gang wars a couple of years ago. Hit-men have related matter-of-factly how they sought out their rivals and left them in a pool of blood.

If, even with that band of thugs off the street, the bodies are piling up at an even greater rate, it is no wonder that Cannizzaro received an ovation when he raised the alarm.

It may be hardly surprising that Cannizzaro regards his office as the most efficient component of the criminal justice system. But the City Council evidently shares his view because the reason it gave for cutting his budget, and forcing him to lay off staff, is that he prosecutes and convicts at a much greater rate than his predecessors.

It is perhaps futile to hope that the council will restore Cannizzaro's money, since that would mean acknowledging a stupid mistake, and that goes against the politician's grain.

Landrieu and the council are on a mission to expand the police department, which might seem a logical response to the crime stats. But a city that seeks more arrests and fewer prosecutions at the same time clearly isn't thinking straight.

Not that it makes much difference how many criminals are rounded up if there is nowhere to put them. A recent crime commission study found that the New Orleans slammer is overflowing with dangerous characters, even though a third of its population has been transferred to distant parishes with spare capacity. If there was a time when New Orleans liked to lock up harmless dopers, it has long passed. Nowadays, almost all the inmates face felony charges, most of them involving weapons or violence.

As NOPD grows, and its starts turning up at crime scenes before the perps have taken a powder, they will need a permanent “No Vacancies” sign at the jailhouse. Or, as Cannizzaro put it in his speech, “the revolving door of the criminal justice system will be put on overdrive and dangerous defendants will be placed back on the streets.”

More beds is the obvious answer, at least according to Cannizzaro, the crime commission and Gary Maynard, who monitors the jail's compliance with the federal consent decree under which it operates. Landrieu, however, believes public safety can be maintained with the jail we have.

To judge from the reaction to Cannizzaro's speech, the public grows impatient for action. Perhaps, one of these days, citizens will surround City Hall in protest. Even then, we probably won't see water cannon on the streets.