For years, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has crafted a criminal justice policy that has repeatedly placed politics above public safety. The only objective of this policy has been to create the illusion of public safety, regardless of what is actually occurring on the streets. In so doing, he has ultimately endangered the citizens of New Orleans. 

In a recent news conference, the mayor discussed his plan to address what he describes as a “concerning recent uptick” in the rate of violent crime. He indicated that recently implemented strategies to increase enforcement by the New Orleans Police Department, including recent arrests by the Major Case Narcotics unit, should help to stem the tide of this violence. NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison specifically referenced a 20 percent increase in self-initiated drug stops. Throughout the news conference, the mayor repeatedly expressed a desire for the NOPD to be “more proactive.” 

I believe an aggressive enforcement strategy against violent criminals is a full-time job and not simply a talking point to be used in a news conference when a desperate citizenry is begging for assistance. To shift blame away from himself, the mayor went on to infer that the spike in violence and decline in solve rates have been caused by a lack of witness participation in the criminal justice system. He said, “We cannot do our job if people won’t come forward.” 

As I was watching this, I asked: Where has this mayor been and what has he been doing for the last six months? This is not a recent uptick. As of June 4, there have been 703 people shot in New Orleans in the past 12 months, which represents an almost 50 percent increase in less than a year. In one day alone last weekend, 13 people were shot and three were murdered.

Even as current events finally push the mayor over the proverbial reality cliff, he stubbornly refuses to call this what it is — a sustained, six-month-long, frighteningly dramatic increase in the level of violence. He will not do this because the increase is directly attributable to radical policies that have obstructed the ability of the city’s criminal justice system to arrest and prosecute violent offenders. These policies have taken root, and New Orleanians are reaping the consequences of the foreseeable public safety catastrophe sown by their elected leaders. As these leaders attempt to seek political cover to avoid the well-deserved blame for their decisions, the citizens of New Orleans can see the hypocrisy in their tactics. 

While the mayor claims that he wants a proactive police department, he repeatedly ignored the warnings of his former police chief that the extended hiring freeze would transform the NOPD from a proactive to reactive department. Under his administration, the mayor has allowed the manpower of the NOPD to atrophy. 

He claims to want tougher enforcement policies while six short months ago, he led an effort to have the City Council slash the budget of the District Attorney’s office in an attempt to obstruct our ability to prosecute crimes of violence. During that effort, a council member, who moonlights as a criminal lawyer, described my office as a “bad actor” for prosecuting “too many cases.” I can only assume that the mayor agrees with this assessment. I must ask the mayor: What is the DA’s office supposed to do with these cases? Or, do your increased enforcement strategies end at arrest? 

The mayor claims to want greater participation in the criminal justice process by witnesses. However, a few weeks ago, the City Council condemned my office for its use of a tool available to both the state and the defendant — material witness warrants, which are the last line of defense against recalcitrant witnesses. The mayor did not publicly oppose the council’s action because at that time. the political winds were blowing in a different direction. 

Ensuring public safety is a full-time job that demands a sustained and consistent approach from leaders. In espousing tough-on-crime policies on one day and then pacifist policies the next, this mayor has repeatedly placed politics above public safety. As a result, he has caused the city to suffer through the repeated cycle of escalating rates of violent crime under his administration.


Leon A. Cannizzaro Jr. is district attorney of Orleans Parish.