The Mid-City Neighborhood Association kicked off 2017 with a comprehensive discussion of crime prevention, the recidivism rate and funding for several public programs.
MCNO will host a community forum every month on a plethora of issues. This month’s topic: public safety.
Patrick Armstrong, MCNO secretary, said the Monday evening forum was intended to get past the initial conversations about crime – such as why officers patrol certain areas, why certain crimes remain unsolved and how the department is funded – to understand what the community can do to protect itself.
“We want to get down into some deeper issues, we want to get down to more details,” Armstrong said.
Officials from the NOPD First District, Mid-City Security District and the New Orleans City Council were available to answer residents’ questions. Lt. Jonette Williams, NOPD Community Engagement Officer, said public forums help build trust between the department and the community, which is key in reducing crime.
“This is the first step in us partnering with the community,” she said.
Overall crime trended downward last year, but auto burglaries and theft remained steady. Sgt. Kenny Temple, who oversees property crimes for the First District, said the main reason for property crimes is opportunity – people leaving their vehicles unlocked or valuables on the front seat.
The best way to protect yourself from these crimes, Temple said, is vigilance.
“See to it that your property is secure at all times,” he said.
First District saw a decrease in assaults last year though sexual assaults rose sharply, according to Sgt. Gary Lewis. Crimes in the Mid-City Security District were down across the board last year with the exception of three categories: rape, domestic assault and auto thefts.
Jim Olsen, chair of the MCSD, explained the purpose of MCSD to the crowd and went over the special district’s protocols, funding source and board of directors. MCSD is funded by a special property tax approved several years ago and pays for security lights, extra NOPD patrols and security cameras.
The MCSD board has one main purpose, Olsen said.
“All we do is manage the money,” he told the crowd.
Besides the extra patrols provided by MCSD, Mid-City residents can set up their own neighborhood watch groups. Williams, with the NOPD Community Engagement office, told MCNO members that a neighborhood watch groups are not managed or run by police officers, but they do help cut down crime. Anyone wishing to start a watch group will receive four training sessions from NOPD and, once trained, will be given two “Neighborhood Watch” signs to play around the area.
Those trainings don’t teach residents how to be police officers, Williams said, but give people tips and tricks on how to be safer.
“It’s about everybody looking out for each other,” Williams said.
Armstrong brought up several questions to the officers throughout the forum, including how residents can anonymously report a crime or suspicious activity. Sgt. Temple reminded the crowd that anyone can remain anonymous while reporting a crime, but if officers don’t see any illegal activity when they respond they cannot move forward with the investigation.
“If there’s no witness or no victim, we can’t move forward with that report,” Temple said.
Many residents questioned the effectiveness of security cameras in police investigations, and some people expressed frustration that personal footage – from cameras placed around homes and neighborhoods – cannot be uploaded to NOPD’s website to aid investigators. Sgt. Gary Lewis, of the First District, said the real trouble with security cameras stems from miscommunication.
Some witnesses inform police they may have footage of the crime in question, but cannot operate the camera system well enough to upload it to a jump drive, Lewis said. In those cases, forensic detectives have to retrieve the footage, and depending on when the crime is reported, the footage may have been automatically deleted.
Given these issues, Lewis said crime cameras still help “a lot” and encouraged people to register their home cameras with the department through the SafeCam NOLA website. Detectives can use the information – where a camera is located and the owner’s contact info – to help solve crimes quicker and more efficiently, Williams said.
New Orleans City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell was also on hand to answer questions about public safety laws, funding and prevention as controlled by local government. The District B representative touched on the recently-approved $615 million spending plan for 2017 which includes more money for the Orleans Public Defender’s office at the expense of the District Attorney’s funds.
Revenue from dozens of new traffic cameras will provide a funding increase for the cash-strapped Orleans Public Defenders office, Cantrell said. The council opted to move transfer about $3 million to the defender’s office because councilmembers “wanted the DA to do a more thorough job of reviewing cases prior to prosecution.”
“What we’ve seen under the current leadership is we’r prosecuting more juveniles in adult court. We have to do something to say hey, let’s look at our policies and turn it around a little bit,” Cantrell said.
Jordan Collins, with the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, questioned how much of the new budget includes funds for re-entry and workforce release programs. Cantrell said none of the current budget includes money for those programs, but the council expects a comprehensive report from Gary Maynard, independent compliance director of the Orleans Parish jail, but Feb. 1.
In the meantime, Cantrell said, self-funded agencies such as MCSD should play a part in reducing the recidivism rate through community development programs. Instead of pouring money into a vehicle patrolling the area, pour those same resources “into people.”
“When you have an additional bucket of resources we can turn that around and impact people’s lives,” Cantrell said. “It’s about helping people, it’s about development.”
MCNO will discuss equity issues at it’s February meeting.