Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has doubled down on his bid to fight violent crime in New Orleans, telling the city's police chief he intends to expand the local footprint of the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation even as city leaders have challenged his law enforcement authority in the city.
While Landry's efforts have produced only modest results over the past few months, the attorney general made clear that his agents are here to stay, and that additional investigators will be sent to the city to arrest fugitives and combat public corruption and child exploitation.
A top Landry lieutenant said that the LBI — the attorney general's investigative division, which Landry renamed upon taking office last year — is "far from being an out-of-town organization encroaching on city turf for publicity," adding that "no one holds the monopoly on enforcing state laws."
With the help of a handful of smaller law enforcement agencies, the LBI has formed a violent crimes task force that has sent agents to several New Orleans neighborhoods.
"We will be intensifying efforts with our current federal partners ... and plan to expand our crime-fighting initiatives with additional state and federal agencies," Joe Picone, the LBI director, wrote in a letter last week to New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison. "Our job is to enforce the same laws that the criminal element so audaciously violates, causing disastrous results that gravely impact the lives of our citizens."
Landry has been locked in a bitter dispute with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose administration has invoked the city's home rule charter and warned Landry that he lacks the authority "to engage in active law enforcement in New Orleans."
Landrieu, a Democrat, has portrayed Landry, a first-term Republican, as a cowboy seeking to exploit the city's crime epidemic for political gain.
The mayor also has accused Landry of failing to coordinate his efforts with the State Police and the New Orleans Police Department, whose officers are subject to a rigorous federal consent decree that controls virtually every aspect of the NOPD's interactions with suspects and citizens.
"You need clear command and control," Landrieu told reporters Monday. "What (Landry) cannot do is go out by himself and rip and run and do whatever he wants outside of the command and control of the police. He's been told that by a federal judge. We believe that we're right."
Landrieu appeared to be referring to U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing the NOPD reforms.
Picone, a former Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office detective, pushed back on Landry's behalf last week, citing a state statute that gives the attorney general the authority to create a division "responsible for (the) investigation of alleged violations of the criminal laws of this state."
Picone said the city's home rule charter is "subordinate to (the) police authority of the state" and asked Harrison to "consider rescinding your order instructing your officers to not work with our agents."
"We strongly disagree ... that our office lacks New Orleans city jurisdiction," Picone wrote. "I am lost ... that we find ourselves in our current position of disagreement when crime is rampant and your force is undermanned."
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, faulted both sides for raising the "political rhetoric" at the potential expense of public safety. The recriminations, he noted, are flying back and forth at a time when the NOPD is grappling with a resurgence in shootings and a chronic shortage of officers.
"I think it's (time for) all hands on deck, and you find a way to use every asset, resource and tool that's offered to you," Goyeneche said. "This refusal to accept assistance from the Attorney General's Office — maybe there was a better use of their resources. But rather than a flat-out refusal, I think you sit down and find a way to harness some of these tools available. I'd like to see some of the political meddling diminished."
Picone's letter was dated Jan. 17, but Landry did not promote the document on his website or social media until Monday morning, hours before Landrieu and Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a multimillion-dollar crime-fighting initiative that will expand police surveillance in the French Quarter and other neighborhoods. The roughly $30 million proposal was drafted following a gun battle Thanksgiving weekend that killed a young man and injured nine others on Bourbon Street.
Picone, in his letter to Harrison, referred to the city's plague of killings, describing New Orleans violence as "ever present" despite the diligence of the police.
He added that he was concerned that "an impression has been projected of (LBI) agents conducting operations in the city as being rogue, unleashed, unchecked and autonomous."
"You and your command staff know this to be untrue, as we have gone above and beyond to communicate and support your agency during every deployment," Picone wrote.
"For the safety and betterment of quality of life for our citizens and visitors," he added, "we would like your cooperation as we move forward bringing all resources to bear against the criminal element spoiling our great city."
Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.