Last week, Mitch Landrieu described his accomplishments as mayor of New Orleans as “admirable at least, and miraculous at best.”
But if Landrieu’s time in office were truly admirable or miraculous, wouldn’t it also have to be true he was successful in making what has traditionally been a violent city safer?
Last summer, the website Police One reported Orleans Parish, between 2009 and 2015, right in the heart of Landrieu’s tenure as mayor, was the most murderous county (or parish) in the United States, with a murder rate of 43 homicides per 100,000 people. Nationally the rate is five murders per 100,000.
To put it into to perspective, the murder rate per capita in New Orleans is higher than in deadly countries like Colombia, South Africa, Jamaica and El Salvador. If Orleans Parish were a country, it would be the fourth most dangerous place on earth.
The per capita murder rate in Orleans Parish is more than five times higher than the homicide rate globally, which comes in at 8 murders per 100,000 people. You are five times more likely to become a murder victim in Orleans Parish than in the rest of the world.
It would be difficult to argue New Orleans has become a safer city under Landrieu. The homicide rate under Landrieu is down slightly, but not enough to brag about. There were 175 murders the first year he took office. The same number were killed in 2016 but the number dropped to 157 in 2017. But 585 people were shot in 2017. Some argue fewer gunshot victims are dying as a result of medical advances, and that’s why the homicide rate has remained mostly flat.
But when you look past the homicide rate and include robberies, assaults, and other violent crime, success is hard to find. Violent crime is up more than 70 percent since Landrieu took office in 2010, according to crime analyst Jeff Asher. It’s hard to spin a 70 percent increase in violent crime under your watch, even for the silver-tongued Landrieu.
Public safety was clearly not a priority for Landrieu. When he first took office, he froze hiring at NOPD. That caused the department through the years to drop from approximately 1,500 to 1,100 at one point. The city is now trying to replenish the department, but only added a net total of 25 new officers in 2017.
"You don't grow (an approximately) 1,200-person department by being right-side-up 20 at a time. That will take you 15 years to get you where you need to be," New Orleans Police Association president and NOPD Capt. Mike Glasser recently told the Times-Picayune.
Last summer, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a nonprofit watchdog organization found that “NOPD lacks the manpower to timely respond to calls for service and adequately address the high rate of crime.”
"The misguided decision in 2010 to freeze police hiring for years created the critical NOPD manpower shortage that continues to adversely impact public safety," the report said.
When Landrieu first took office, half of the city’s murders went unsolved. Eight years into Landrieu’s watch, more than three-quarters of all murders committed in New Orleans go unsolved. And the response time from police has doubled under Landrieu.
"Despite what you hear, the safety of the city of New Orleans is declining in the past year and has gotten demonstrably worse. This is the direct result of the city’s ill-conceived criminal justice policies,” District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro told The Advocate last year.
Landrieu may have been effective as mayor in some areas. But you can build a library on every corner and have the fanciest airport on the globe, and if people don’t feel safe in their city, what good is it?
Other large Southern cities like Houston, Tampa Bay and Atlanta don’t have near the violent crime New Orleans does. The homicide rate per 100,000 in New Orleans is six times higher than Tampa Bay’s, close to four times higher than Houston’s and more than twice as high as Atlanta’s. Obviously, we are doing something wrong. Hopefully, Landrieu's successor, Latoya Cantrell, will learn from his mistakes and make public safety Priority One.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.