This post has been laying around in my Draft Folder, half finished for months. It seemed appropriate to finish it now.
Nearly everyone who lives in New Orleans for any time becomes a victim of a crime. Fortunately it's usually a property crime and, at least in my circles, seldom a violent crime.
Prior to moving to my current home near The Lake I lived in a predominately African-American section of the Irish Channel. In the nearly twenty years I lived there I was subjected to a number of property crimes. My house was burglarized twice, once while We were asleep upstairs. My car(s) were broken into three times, once someone pried open the sun roof to steal a car phone receiver and try to steal the radio, all they succeeded in doing was causing lots of damage. I had my tool shed cleaned out twice. I had several instances of vandalism and petty theft, including the Architectural theft of a nineteenth century wrought/cast iron gate from the fence in from of my house, apparently in broad daylight. I once witnessed a couple of people with guns drawn chasing someone. I think they were police officers but was never really sure. We heard gunfire at night all of the time. I even had a shovel stolen from my front yard while I took a break to get a drink of water. Someone once told me no one would steal a shovel, apparently they had never been to New Orleans.
I have never been mugged or assaulted. I have known two people who were murdered.
My parents have, living in main stream suburban America, experienced only one criminal act in their lives so far. A gang of "kids" snatched my Mother's purse from inside her car while she was in it. That incident happened in New Orleans near the corner of and St. Charles Avenue and Calliope Street. They were on the way to my home. I lived in the Irish Channel. It was the only time in my life I ever heard my Father utter the word NIGGER. He struggled with it between his revulsion for the word and his rage, to express his horror at seeing his wife assaulted. It was the worst word he knew to use. My parents never spent the night at that house or really ever visited it again.
I think my experience is typical of many longtime residents of similar neighborhoods.
Recently there has been a lot of angst over one murder, that prompted a march, which prompted a preemptive press conference. Not much has changed that I can see. In fact it's a little discouraging that it took the murder of a white woman to focus the preponderantly African-American "leadership" of New Orleans on a crime problem some were denying only days before. The vast majority of the victims of crime are African-American, you'd think that might make a difference.
I now live in a "safe" neighborhood, part of a Crime Prevention District which is patrolled by "extra" police. I pay an annual fee for the "extra" protection, but I seriously doubt we get any extra patrols. As soon as those patrols started I'm pretty sure NOPD stopped patrolling our neighborhood and moved the "real" cops somewhere else. Perhaps that's something I'm contributing to controlling crime in New Orleans.
Outside of that I wonder what what I can actually do. I don't know any criminals or drug dealers I can turn in. I never witnessed a crime I could testify about. These are the only things I think that can solve the immediate problem. Good citizens must take the streets back. Our "leaders" have squandered the trust between the criminal justice system (including the police) and the citizens. Trust which is so necessary for any community to truly fight crime.
Mary Landreu, in agreement with the ACLU, thinks that police cars should be equipped with video cameras to record all stops. I agree with that, let's do it tomorrow. Perhaps there could be a federal grant to provide the equipment. All too often the police are accused of improper behavior because of the reputation of the NOPD. Apparently local juries believe the accusations a lot of the time, whether there is proof or not.
We shouldn't stop there. On my way home from work I usually drive down St. Bernard Avenue. Near Claiborne Avenue there are a number of bars where I sometimes see large numbers of people gathering in the street, drinking and having a good time. I also frequently see police cars there with their blue lights flashing. I don't know what types of incidents occur there, but I think areas like this where large numbers of people routinely congregate would be a great place for video cameras, as would the French Quarter.
I'm a little surprised at the resistance to placing video cameras in public areas. Private entities do it all the time. You could put up a web cam showing the street in front of your house or your place of business, maybe we all should. I know some consider that an invasion of privacy, but a burglary or murder is far more invasive.
Placing cameras in public areas would deter some crime, help identify criminals, and in some cases create an indisputable record that could be used at trial. Most suburban shopping malls have video surveillance, and a camera covering a public street can't show anything which a policeman or private citizen standing in the same place can't see. Perhaps these cameras could be web cams available to all citizens all the time, like traffic cams or other NOLA cams. Private Cameras could help. Perhaps businesses, churches and private citizens could create a citizen web camera network. Perhaps some foundation could provide the hardware and the community could provide the expertise necessary to implement them. Perhaps Earthlink could install some as they expand their wireless network.
The court watcher thing also sounds like a good idea. Perhaps if someone showed up who cared about the City, things might improve. We could keep score. We might get new Judges. We might find out if the juries are doing their job. We might find out if the prosecutors are doing theirs. To work it would need to be independent of any official or semi official filter. Trials are public. Trials are public for exactly that reason, to allow the public to observe the court system in action and to preserve justice for all, accused and victim alike.
Finally we should look for ways of getting more cops on the streets immediately. Perhaps we could replace cops on administrative duty with civilians. Perhaps we could call some retired cops back for desk duty. Perhaps some of the cops out sick could take on some limited duty, to free healthy cops for street patrols. Perhaps we could get some law enforcement officers from other locations or agencies and partner them with NOPD officers. Like the Criminal Sheriff or Levee Police or Harbor Police or Causeway Police. Perhaps we could team MPs with NOPD officers to stretch the NOPD. I think many guard/reserve MPs are also law enforcement officers. We need more cops but we need them under a single competent command structure. We don't need hundreds of cops unfamiliar with New Orleans racing around in convoys under independent command, like just after Katrina.
Unless the violence is suppressed the long term measures have no chance.