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New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell claps after recruit class #190 took the oath of the police officer during a graduation ceremony at the NOPD Training Academy on Friday, December 18, 2020 at the NOPD Training Academy at 11am.in New Orleans, La. Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Fourteen graduates were sworn in as new police officers in two different ceremonies to allow for coronavirus precautions. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The supporters of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell claim that she is doing a great job of keeping her citizens safe from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the outbreak, the Cantrell administration has implemented aggressive policies aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

As a result, many businesses have been forced to close, while others remain open at limited capacity. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs while many others are barely surviving on limited pay. The mayor believes that these measures have been necessary because of her concern for the health of the people of New Orleans.

Her anxiety about the pandemic may explain her outrage at a Christian worship rally held in the French Quarter in November. Many of the participants did not wear masks and the mayor fumed that first-responders and citizens were put at risk.

Cantrell was so angry at one of the rally performers, Lauren Daigle, that she wrote a letter to Dick Clark Productions asking that she not be included in a New Year’s Eve television show based in New Orleans. Ultimately, Daigle was not asked to participate, but the city was forced to pay $500,000 for the production. If Daigle had participated, this cost would have been covered by the office of Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser.

But after bungling the deal with Dick Clark, the mayor again turned her attention to a Christian rally, which was scheduled for New Year’s Eve in the French Quarter.

The New Orleans Police Department issued a press release vowing “to ensure this illegal event does not take place.” The public was “urged not to attempt to attend this event.” The Cantrell administration claimed that the necessary permits were not received by event coordinators.

Despite the threats, the rally took place with minimal problems. Rally organizer Pastor Andy “Rebirth” Pellerano of One Accord Ministries said, “It’s our right to gather to really petition (God) on behalf of our city. We believe in the power of prayer. This is what’s needed.”

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Pastor Pellerano is absolutely correct. While prayer is always beneficial, it is especially needed today in crime-infested New Orleans. In fact, Mayor Cantrell should be welcoming all faith-based groups into the city to pray for the safety of citizens. Clearly, despite the mayor’s pandemic policies, the people of New Orleans are not safe.

While city officials are focused on limiting the spread of COVID-19 and preventing Christian rallies from succeeding, there is a public safety concern that needs much more attention. The murder rate in New Orleans soared in 2020. Final crime results show there were at least 195 murders in New Orleans last year, an increase of 60% from the 2019 rate.

Even though the 2019 murder rate was the lowest in New Orleans in 47 years, it was still the fourth-highest in the country with 30.7 homicides per 100,000 citizens. Surely, the city’s ranking will be even worse in 2020.

The reasons for the crime explosion in New Orleans are multifaceted. Almost all of the larger cities in the country experienced an increase in crime in 2020, but not at the same level as New Orleans. The coronavirus outbreak led to immense economic woes as large segments of our hospitality and tourism industry were shuttered. Essentially closing a major contributor to the local economy led to a surge in unemployment, mental health problems, and, eventually, violent crime.

There is also a toxic combination of too many criminals and not enough police officers keeping the citizens of New Orleans safe. The horrible economy forced the administration to furlough officers. This policy was combined with a pay cut and a lack of detail work, resulting in a large number of officers exiting the department.

Fortunately, the furlough policy was just rescinded, which should help return more officers to the streets to protect vulnerable citizens.

Instead of worrying about Christian rallies, the mayor needs to be fixated on public safety. As long as this crisis persists, the exodus of businesses and taxpayers will continue.

Jeff Crouere is a political commentator on radio and television in New Orleans.