By The Louisiana Weekly
Despite closing out 2018 with 145 homicides, the lowest murder total in nearly five decades, New Orleans remains one of the nation’s Top 5 deadliest cities.
Late last month, NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison attributed the drop in violent crime to the use of a Real Time Crime Center that utilizes a network of surveillance cameras across the city, the NOPD’s TIGER program which targets repeat violent offenders and improved police-community relations.
LSU criminologist Dr. Peter Sharf told FOX 8 News that crime cameras and stability in police hierarchy deserve credit for a historic low when it came to murders in 2018.
However he says the city still has a long way to go.
The year 2018 was a year that started out on the wrong foot when it came to murders.
“Much of the carnage this year was in the first two months, and it’s gone down consistently,” said LSU Health criminologist, Peter Scharf, PhD.
For example, Mardi Gras day in February, four people were killed in three separate shootings, Uptown, in the CBD and in Treme, and some were predicting a violent year.
That didn’t happen, and the city’s chronic murder problem settled down.
New Orleans finished out 2018 with 145 murders, a 47-year low, with the murder of Marla Belin, one of the last, and the arrest of Tyrone Fountain last night.
Dr. Scharf says the increased use of crime cameras and technology deserves much of the credit for the overall drop in murders.
“My suspicion in the short term is the cameras, and pro active patrol, the public health things will take a longer time to develop,” said Scharf.
Scharf also credits stability in NOPD leadership, and superintendent Michael Harrison.
“Absolutely, Michael like all of us had a mixed reputation, he’s built a good team, and has a sound strategy,” said Scharf.
Scharf says murders are down nationally, and he cautions, though the trends are good in New Orleans, it is still one of the most violent cities in the country.
“When you look at murder in 2018, New York is 3.5 per 100,000, we’re at 36 or 37, so we’re 10 times more dangerous for violent crime than New York,” said Scharf.
Dr. Scharf says the city has all but abandoned its old goal of 1,600 police officers.
He said crime cameras, and more “intelligent” policing are helping to achieve crime reductions at lower troop strength.
Despite the significant drop in homicides, an analyst notes that the murder rate remains among the nation’s highest.
The 145 homicides in the city in 2018 marked the lowest total since 116 in 1971. It also marked the second drop in a row: from 174 in 2016 to 157 in 2017 and 145 last year.
The murder rate is about 37 per 100,000 residents. That’s at best fourth-highest and might be No. 3, crime analyst and City Council consultant Jeff Asher told The New Orleans Advocate. St. Louis and Baltimore have the highest rates, and either Detroit and New Orleans will be next, he said.
It would take a further significant reduction for New Orleans to drop to No. 5, he said.
New Orleans’ murder rate has been flat for four years, Scharf told WVUE-TV.
“I think we need to try some of these new initiatives, public health approaches and see if we can get it so that New Orleans is kind of like other cities in the United States, it’s not now,” Scharf said. “So the question is, you have pockets of extreme at-risk kids who are armed and they’re in the drug culture – how do you intervene effectively with those kids way prior to anybody shooting anybody?”
New Orleans’ 47-year low in murders was accompanied by a drop of about 28 percent in the number of non-deadly shooting incidents from 2017, the newspaper reported. Armed robberies fell for the third year in a row, and the number of carjackings came down as well in 2018, according to statistics kept by the New Orleans City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee.
Asher said police work could be part of the reasons, but other factors are almost certainly at play.
Violent crime is trending downward nationally, and communities frequently see cooler periods in the wake of a spike in violence, which New Orleans endured when there were about two shootings daily for a year beginning in the middle of 2016.
“We don’t necessarily know what the drivers of gun violence (rates) are from day to day, month to month, or year to year,” Asher said. “More than likely, it’s not a single explanation, but it would be logical to say one of those things could be enforcement.”
Asher also noted that while 2018 saw the fewest murders in New Orleans since 1971, the city had a lower murder rate in 1985, when there were 152 slayings and more than 500,000 residents.
Harrison, who always points out that even a single murder is too many, concedes that plenty of work remains to be done.
But he said he’s optimistic. For one thing, he said, his agency is closing in on substantial compliance with a 492-point federally mandated consent decree aimed at bringing the department up to federal standards for constitutional policing that has improved performance, most notably by slashing the rate at which its 1,200 officers resort to force.
Implementation of the NOPD consent decree began in August 2013.
“The whole city needs to know it was the 1,200 officers who executed (the strategies) and willingly transformed” the agency, Harrison said. “They should recognize it’s the officers who made the culture change, and I’m honored it’s under my leadership.”
This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly.