Peering out your front window several times a night hoping your car hasn’t been broken into has become a way of life for many in New Orleans. The city had more than 6,000 vehicles burglarized last year. That’s an increase of more than 50% from the year previous and up 160% from 2015. That’s a lot of shattered glass.
It’s so bad, Leonard Smith, owner of Jazz Auto Glass on South Broad, is offering customers a monthly membership for repair. Smith is seeing so many repeat customers he figured charging a flat fee for unlimited glass repair would save them money.
Neil Ponstein woke up early New Year’s Day to a bunch of cops surveying the destruction left overnight by car burglars in his Lakeview neighborhood. In his block alone, they smashed three vehicles.
“It has gotten out of control,” Ponstein said. “I do everything the police tell you to do — lock my doors, leave nothing of value in there, thinking that (thieves) would look in my car, see nothing and move on. But they didn’t.”
A week ago thieves broke into 35 vehicles overnight in the Uptown and Irish Channel neighborhoods.
Irish Channel resident Kearney Walters said he was home watching TV around 11:30 p.m. when he heard glass breaking outside.
“Immediately as I’m walking out the door, they’re in the car. They saw me and they jumped in their cars and took off,” Walters told WVUE-TV television.
The dramatic increase in auto break-ins has Uptown resident Betty Clayton wishing for better days.
“This city has gotten to a place that you don’t want to be here anymore. You’d like to just pack up and leave,” Clayton said.
Last weekend thieves smashed the windows of at least 20 vehicles in City Park. And on Tuesday, in New Orleans East, thieves smashed the windows of several cars while their owners were inside worshipping at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church.
"This thing is out of control," Deacon Vinh Tran said.
What’s frustrating is the cops know who’s doing most of the break-ins. In a recent interview with WVUE, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson gave us a hint of just how badly the city’s criminal justice system is broken.
“We arrest individuals time and time again for these crimes, unfortunately, they are back on the streets and we just have to continue to arrest them,” Ferguson said. “It has gotten to the point where our district captains know the names of some of these individuals. That’s how familiar we are with these individuals, and that’s never a good thing.”
How infuriating it must be for victims to know most of those breaking into their vehicles have probably done it before and will likely do it again even after facing arrest. It’s the dysfunction of it all that makes it so hard to accept.
Crime analyst Jeff Asher, hired by the New Orleans City Council, told the body last week that only 9% of vehicle burglaries result in an arrest. And half of those were juveniles.
New Orleans councilman Jason Williams this week described the vehicle break-in spree to WDSU television as “the No. 1 thing burdening our citizens right now.”
Williams also described the rash of vehicle burglaries as a nuisance crime. Ironically, nuisance is the same term he and his allies used to rid the city of confederate monuments.
But is the loss of peace of mind a nuisance or much more? When it’s open season on your stuff for criminals who rarely face arrest, and if they do are free again to offend, that seems like much more than a nuisance.
We’ve seen several cases in New Orleans of auto burglars becoming violent when confronted. Lakeview resident Gino Ascani was shot after he tried to run off four thieves breaking into his fiancée’s car in 2017. Ascani eventually formed the Lakeview Citizen Watch program to try to do something about the crime spree in his neighborhood.
And then, there was the case of 63-year old Zelda Townsend. In May 2019, a teenager shot and killed Townsend when she and her husband confronted the boy and his friends as they rummaged through their car. Townsend’s husband was also injured. I doubt the Townsends consider open season on auto burglaries in New Orleans a nuisance.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.