Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Shhh ... New Orleans witnesses spate of murders
There are two things you need to really understand about New Orleans before you can talk about any issue there: 1) It is much smaller than you think and 2) Everything is about politics.

So when I tell you the murder rate is rising, but the chief of police doesn't think it's that bad, you can understand why people in New Orleans are starting to worry.

New Orleans has always been a high-crime city, but there was a big drop-off in the number of murders committed in the initial months after Hurricane Katrina. The flood that wiped-out large areas of this city also was credited with dispersing New Orleans' criminals.

But the effect appears to be temporary. So far this year, thirty-two people have been murdered in New Orleans; thirteen last month alone. In this city of 180,000 people, the result is murder rate comparable to some of the most crime-ridden areas of the country.

Last week, I sat down with Warren Riley, the new chief of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). He tried to explain how crime is not that bad in New Orleans.

The actual murder rate, he says, is lower than it was before Katrina wiped-out the population. He also tried to explain that the official estimate of the population -- 180,000 people -- is wrong.

Why? Because that figure doesn't count all the people who drive into New Orleans every day to work. It only counts the people who actually sleep in New Orleans when all those workers go home.

So the NOPD has decided to add a new mathematical twist to make its murder rate look better than it is. They add the daytime population to the nighttime population, then divide by two. That gives a much bigger population figure, and lo and behold, 32 murders in four months doesn't look as bad.

Despite trying to put a positive spin on the numbers, police officers admit there are indications that violent Latino drug gangs are following the heavily Hispanic labor force into the city. This is setting up the potential for turf wars with the mostly African-American gangs that dominated this city pre-Katrina.

The police force is short around 200 officers, and Chief Riley is asking the state for 50 or 60 troopers to help patrol the city's abandoned areas. Also, many police stations are still unusable, and the jail, courts and even patrol cars are in disrepair.

Chief Riley hopes to have his force back to around 1,600 officers in the next two years. Even so, he says he may need a force twice that strength to really control crime in New Orleans.
Posted By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent: 4:43 PM ET
  30 Comments
That is about the craziest thing I have ever heard! 13 murders in April? 32 murders this year and we're only in May! Does anyone else find it odd that Warren Riley, the new chief of the New Orleans Police, is nonchalant about this? Maybe he needs to step away from the situation before he can actually realize the staggering reality. Maybe he doesn't care. Are the murders only gang related or innocent people?
Posted By Anonymous Nicki Ferguson, Calgary, Alberta : 5:54 PM ET
Wow, I really like the whole mathematical concept. Great thinking NOPD. I am sure the math means nothing to the family members in NOLA that lost a loved one to murder.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel-Albuquerque, NM : 5:58 PM ET
I don't consider avaerage the 2 populations to be a "mathematical twist". It does make sense if you consider that most people spend more awake hours away from home than they do at home. However, that does not make the rising crime rate ok.
Posted By Anonymous Betsy, Lake Crystal, MN : 6:01 PM ET
"police officers admit there are indications that violent Latino drug gangs are following the heavily Hispanic labor force into the city. "

With the immigration issue so prominent now, this concerns me. Are these workers and gangs legal citizens? If police know who they are I'm guessing that the police are just out-numbered/out-gunned? Are they getting any assistance?

Juggling numbers may make the rate look better, but the number of murders is still unacceptable.
Posted By Anonymous Deb, Richmond VA : 6:02 PM ET
As an American of Mexican descent, I take great exception to the premise that the increase in murders is due to the influx of Latino drug gangs. Being from Laredo, TX I can tell you that drug wars are fought in more prosperous territories. NOLA is a small fish in a vast number of lakes that truly interest drug cartels. I would suggest to you that many incarcerated prisoners did not stray as far as is thought. Also, Katrina left great poverty and damaged psyches. Let us not forget that despair is a breeding ground for disorder.
Posted By Anonymous Angie H.;Laredo TX : 6:08 PM ET
New Orleans' problems:

1 - Black drug gangs
2 - Hispanic drug gangs who came in with the rest of the illegals.

Hm. Looks like the same problems it had before Katrina. Then again what do you expect from the crime capital of the most corrupt state in the Nation?
Posted By Anonymous Bob, Houston, TX : 6:09 PM ET
The NOPD is down 200 officers and the city is at less than half of its pre-Katrina population. I have been discussing this with my fellow evacuees and we have realized that the NOPD has a luxurious number of police for the current number of citizens. What is the real problem? When I return to my deserted neighborhood to check on my home and to the other miles and miles of empty neighborhoods, I don't see NOPD patrolling. They should be stepping over each other patrolling the densely populated areas. What's the deal chief? Are the cops sitting around enjoying the luxury of a low population? Why aren't they being more proactive? Riley can be nonchalant all he wants--a new mayor will mean a new, and hopefully more concerned chief.
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., New Orleanian in Austin, TX : 6:40 PM ET
Actually thse numbers are down from when I lived in NO in 87 & 88. In 88 I believe the city had 384(reported) murders for the year. National Geographic even had an article about how the military was sending its medics to work at charity hospital to get hands on experience with treating gunshot wounds. NO has always had the pefect recipe for crime: Poverty + Illiteracy + Political Corruption = CRIME.
Posted By Anonymous Joe D. BR, LA : 7:40 PM ET
If our goverment would appoint a administrator for the gulf region for these next few years some of these issues might be corrected. These areas are really devastated and elected officals can only serve the people if law and order is the rule for the day.
Posted By Anonymous Dave Winfield Quincy, Il : 7:40 PM ET
When Mayor Naggin first ran for Mayor of N.O. he ptomised us a police chief from outside N.O. who would be better qualified however that never happened and the crime rate went up and up. The police force was never equiped to handlle the gang problem of Orleans before the hurricane I'm sure its not equiped now. The racial makeup of the gangs doesn't really matter the response to the threat of the gangs does and N.O. has never been willing to equip itself to take care of the gan problem past or future. The police Dept has always been the worse in the country and until that problem is addressed Orleans will be a breeding ground for criminals.
Posted By Anonymous Rebecca Sebring Arabai LA : 8:26 PM ET
Apalling. Simply apalling.
Mr. Anderson, would you be so kind as to pass this information along to the news media operating in the city of New Orleans? They don't seem to have gotten the same memo, and appear to be publishing only whatever it is that the current local administration tells them to publish.
Posted By Anonymous Kayla, New Orleans LA : 9:14 PM ET
I was the victim of crime twice when I went to New Orleans at the beginning of March. I am a white female. Once was an attempted robbery by two adult white males as I sat on a bench at Lafayette Square. The second was a hotel room burglary by white teenagers who were staying at the same hotel. I also witnessed three major car accidents. In all cases the New Orleans police responded in an exceptionally timely fashion, and the perpetrators were arrested immediately.

The only Latino people I encountered in New Orleans were two men who worked at the hotel, and they were the most friendly, helpful and hardworking of all the staff I encountered.

I spoke at length with several displaced African American women and men who had come back to work for the day, or try to take care of business such as seeing the insurance adjustor.

I would be more interested in knowing if the murders are killings that take place during robberies or other crimes. Or, are the murders among people who already know each other. A number doesn't tell the story.
Posted By Anonymous Barbara See Orchard Park, New York : 9:28 PM ET
Riley's "new" math = lower murder rate.
Posted By Anonymous SC - Midlothian, VA : 9:41 PM ET
It sounds like the Chief of Police is making excuses for his actions. We need a professional opinion other than the defending police chief. If he can't take care of New Orleans then let someone else
handle it like the president even though it would take him months to send help.
Posted By Anonymous Adrian Antimo, Broken Bow Oklahoma : 10:07 PM ET
NOLA was a poor city prior to Katrina and is definately a broke city after Katrina. Before or after, there was not a sufficient tax base to support all the city functions in the manner in which they need to do a proper job.

It doesn't matter who is mayor of NOLA if the city doesn't have the $$$, it doesn't have the $$$.

Until the all NOLA citizens come to literally pay for all city services it requires and that all citizens use/need/enjoy the city will remain the lowest paid employees with the highest needs.

At the same time Americans much less NOLA citizens have come to forget "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".

We need to do for ourselves and stop looking for someone else to do for us and that means paying what needs to be paid and if you are unwilling to pay then you cannot complain.
Posted By Anonymous CAVAIN, NOLA, LA : 10:23 PM ET
While Chief Riley is nonchalant, it may be strange for some, but those of us from New Orleans can understand his thoughts. When you grow up in a city where the murder rate is astronomical you are aware of it but you know it's not "affecting you." You come to know that most of the murders happen in housing projects and between street gangs. Occasionally you may hear about a robbery where a victim is murdered over a few dollars but most of the time it has happened due to a drug deal gone bad or the revenge for another murder.

Before Katrina there was a billboard that hung for many years on Claiborne near the Superdome and the I-10 entrance that read simply "Thou Shall Not Kill." I believe it was a NOPD billboard but I could be wrong. It has since been with one recognizing the police and their efforts during Katrina. NOPD needs to recognize the problems that plague our city just as our Government needs to recognize the problems that plague us as citizens, it's a simple fact that no one likes to state the obvious and no one likes to take the blame.

It's no secret that we have a crime problem in New Orleans, that's not a new issue. Cities that host tourists in multitudes generally do. It's a sad fact. I wish we could all live in cities where there were no murders, no crime, no fault but the simple fact is, we don't live in a perfect world.
Posted By Anonymous Gretchen Schneider, New Orleans LA : 10:46 PM ET
I never heard of anything so stupid in my life!

Those that sleep in New Orleans are called RESIDENTS. RESIDENTS are what make up the POPULATION of a city. Others might work there from nearby communities, but this doesn't make them residents. Sheesh...

What an asinine concept..."daytime" and "nighttime" population.
Posted By Anonymous Linda E. , Ottawa, KS : 2:50 AM ET
A city leader putting a spin on the facts? I've never heard of such a thing!
Posted By Anonymous Kurt Cincinnati, Ohio : 7:24 AM ET
I get so tired of hearing the racial thing brought up everytime someone tells it like it is. There seems to be offense taken because someone mentioned Latino drug gangs. If that is where part of the problem is coming from then why try to act like the problem doesnt exist. Im assuming the NO police department has a REASON for making the statement. The truth is alot of illegal immigrants go where they think the jobs are and if they believe they will be able to get jobs in NO then thats where they will be and why is it so hard to believe that any gangs would also go there...doesnt it seem like easy pickings considering the situation that exists? Im of Irish,English,Scottish and American Indian descent and if its reported on the news that a red-headed blue eyed Irishman committed a crime then Im not going to be offended because Im of Irish descent. It is what it is, and pretending otherwise doesnt make it go away. Maybe they need to get National Guard back in there until the city has been more normalized or maybe other police forces can loan officers who are willing on a temporary basis. I dont know what the solution is but it shouldnt be allowed to spiral out of control and before you know it you have another violent,drug-ridden town like some of the border towns.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa Jax FL : 9:29 AM ET
Warren Riley is no police chief. He's a politician who does what politicians do best, juggle the numbers to makes things look better than they actually are. You can do anything with statistics.
Posted By Anonymous A. Roy Olson, Tucson AZ : 10:52 AM ET
As a native New Orleanian, raised inside a political family -- spent every Mardi Gras at Gallier Hall with the mayor from Landrieu all the way up to and INCLUDING this administration, I can tell you that politics in NOLA is not corrupt. Outsiders see it as corrupt because upon close inspection of a deal or a bid, one finds that the bidder is a relative or a friend of a friend.

What's really hard for outsiders to understand is that the city is SMALL. Everyone here knows everyone or is related -- black and white -- and are separated by only one or two degrees. My mom worked with so and so who's daughter babysits for me -- that kind of a connection exists for EVERYONE here.

That's why when Katrina hit so many ENTIRE families were devasted. Natives STAY here. We don't leave because we like it and FAMILY is incredibly important in Louisiana culture.

Outsiders, well, they move here and they work here, but the can never get "in the system" here for at least two generations because the friendship circles go back generations. "Our parents were friends, so we're friends" is the mantra here.

Now, is that bad? Maybe. Maybe not. It's what has allowed us to maintain a small town feel -- a real community; it's what kept us geographically close to our moms, dads, cousins and extended family -- something most Americans can't say. I live(d) two miles from my entire family in the Lakeview area. My daughter goes her grandmother's everyday after school and sleeps at her cousin's regularly.

On the other hand, the connectedness has prevented us from growing, accepting new ideas and/or change.

I don't know which is worse -- but I tell you this -- I like that my daughter knows all her cousins really really well and spends a lot of time with all her grandparents and great-grandparents. I like that I'm HERE as my parents age. I like that I'm here when my sister has another baby. I like that I don't have to travel on Thanksgiving.

I would take the status quo (or corruption as you call it) with all its drawbacks if it meant I could have that life back.
Posted By Anonymous Amy, New Orleans, now in Metairie : 11:53 AM ET
Also, just to remind you, the failure of the levee -- which caused the destruction of 80% of the city -- had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MAYOR.

It was a failure of the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency of the United States Government.

So, even, allegedly "uncorrupt" governments have major failures.
Posted By Anonymous Amy, New Orleans, now in Metairie : 11:55 AM ET
I lived in the New Orleans region until a month ago and I've never understood the logic behind the daytime and nighttime populations. You live there you are part of the population. I think that 32 murders in New Orleans post Katrina needs to be dealt with, not excused.
Posted By Anonymous Marla Gaspard, Irving TX : 1:39 PM ET
Of course the math shows a lower murder rate. Have you seen Houston's? Remember, 20,000+ NO ex-residents/criminals now call Houston home. So thank you NO for sending us your best and brightest residents. Our morgues thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Farrison, Houston, TX : 2:48 PM ET
Thanks Amy. You explained that so well. There is a culture in New Orleans like no other. It cannot be replaced or reproduced. That is why it is so hard to be ripped away like we have. Black, White, we all feel that way.
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., Austin, TX : 3:09 PM ET
Most people just don't understand what this "lifestyle" does. For one thing, most young boys are cast out of the society as they become competition for the established poligimists. Two wives for one husband means that a potential husband will never become one. On a macroeconomic scale, this is a disaster and leads to much unrest.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Hill, La Jolla, CA : 5:56 PM ET
Drew, you're right, it IS all about politics in New Orleans. Thirteen murders in one month, no matter how you measure it is still thirteen murder victims. And before the Chief goes adding in the "day population", how many of these murders were committed after 6:00 pm?
Thirty two more bodies after all the bodies found last year is just inexcuseable. Get busy doing police work, Chief Riley, and leave the math to the rocket scientists.
Posted By Anonymous Katie, Amarillo, TX : 6:28 PM ET
"New Orleans has always been a high-crime city, but there was a big drop-off in the number of murders committed in the initial months after Hurricane Katrina. The flood that wiped-out large areas of this city also was credited with dispersing New Orleans' criminals."

Well, since they are still finding bodies and the press never gave us an honest body count, who knows what the murder rate really was?
Posted By Anonymous PD, Atlantic City, NJ : 1:52 PM ET
It is about time some reporters start reporting the good as well as the bad. We are rebuilding this city--this whole area and the good needs to be shown too. For example there was a segment of remembering heroes. Storm heroes. People who slept in pirogues or boats after the storm during the day and rescued people during the day. Why aren't any of these stories being shown. For one thing people who do not live in South Louisiana have no idea how things are done so stop thinking that you do. Stop judging us.

Day and night time populations are not that hard to figure out especially now. Not everyone lives in the city because the entire city is not fully operational. Some areas still have to boil their water. It is very likely for a person to work in the city and live somewhere outside the city. A prime example is the traffic. There are cars everywhere during the day but at night there aren't as many simply because people have left to go to their temporary/permanent housing.

I wouldn't say the city is small but close knit. The first thing in introductions here is who's your momma? everyone knows everyone else.

Earlier someone said that it would be better for Louisiana to not rebuild and let the animals take over. To that I laughed my ass off. Have you seen the debris out here? Did you see the nails and all that? Homes are down here. Animals won't be able to survive in all that. Animals and humans coexist in Louisiana. We both have our homes here and our families here. There is no sense in just giving up and letting our area, our heritage, our culture, our traditions, and our lives go to the nutrias.
Posted By Anonymous True Cajun, New Orleanian in Houma : 11:37 PM ET
I would like to know why NO is allowed to have "daytime" and "nighttime" populations, but no other city is given that leeway when discussing murder rates (at least according to the police chief). They are not the only city with workers that come from out of town on a regular basis.

How do the rates compare when you give other cities the same treatment (although, as has been pointed out, it's not logical to do so for anyone)?
Posted By Anonymous Becky, Duluth, MN : 7:44 AM ET
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