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NOLA city council questions crime stats after report cites rise in police response times

A city council analysis reported that a growing number of 911 calls are marked “gone on arrival”

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By Matt Sledge
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — Fresh off a victory in court over the New Orleans Police Department consent decree, Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Wednesday lauded the progress she said the city is making in reducing violent crime and took aim at recent critics of the department’s crime statistics.

For weeks, the mayor and her police chief have cited figures showing violent crime reports are down. But City Council President JP Morrell questioned those numbers last week, pointing to a City Council analysis that enumerates a growing number of 911 calls that are marked “gone on arrival” as police response times rise.

The NOPD hasn’t rebutted that analysis, but Cantrell said at a press conference that she rejects the idea that the crime decline is a mirage, accusing Morrell of spewing “false truths.”

The debate over the number of calls where police arrive too late to find a victim or witness could loom large as City Council members spar with Cantrell over crime strategies and the mayor searches a new police chief.

A true decline?

Cantrell and interim Police Superintendent Michelle Woodfork say violent crime reports are down 20% so far this year compared to the same period last year. Murders, in particular, are down 16%.

But at a hearing last week, Morrell said that besides the killings, those statistics should come with an asterisk. He noted that 911 response times have soared over the past year, which means that many victims may simply give up when forced to wait for police.

The average response time for a 911 call reporting a violent crime was 106 minutes in March, compared to 84 minutes during March 2022, according to a recent report by analyst Jeff Asher, an analyst for the City Council.

Meanwhile, the number of 911 calls about violent crimes where cops find victims or witnesses gone from the scene — and don’t write a report at all — has risen from 26% of calls in the first three months of last year to 32% of calls this year.

It’s not clear how often police would have concluded that the calls reflected actual incidents of violence, if they had been able to make contact with victims and witnesses.

Cantrell didn’t offer a competing analysis — but she was adamant that the council’s numbers were wrong.

“The data that was presented was inaccurate. We will be able to present you with the data that you’re asking, and data coming from the New Orleans Police Department is the most accurate data, relative to crime trends in the city of New Orleans,” said Cantrell. “False truths from the dais are a disservice to the residents.”

Later Wednesday, Morrell noted that the response time numbers are taken from the city’s own databases. He said he’s reached out to Woodfork to discuss the numbers.

“The mayor is entitled to her own opinion, but she is not entitled to her own set of facts,” Morrell said. “Last year, as you might recall, she rejected that the city was—by FBI statistics—the murder capital of the country. Wishing away bad information does not make it false.”

The NOPD previously had its own dashboard showing 911 response times. That dashboard is being rebuilt to adjust for new 911 call classifications from the Orleans Parish Communication District, according to the department’s website.

The search continues

Morrell said Woodfork’s willingness to confront the facts could play a role in his decision to confirm her as permanent chief if she is the mayor’s pick, he said. She has not formally applied for the job, but Cantrell has made clear that she views Woodfork as a leading contender.

Next week, the nonprofit firm leading hired to conduct the superintendent search will begin holding a series of meetings with residents to ask what they want to see in their next top cop, according to Cantrell.

The search process is expected to last until early July.

Court ruling a ‘step in the right direction’

Also Wednesday, the mayor took a victory lap over the city’s win at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on the question of whether U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan could haul city and police employees into court to give an update on consent decree progress.

Appellate judges blocked the hearing and gave Morgan 30 days to reconsider her order.

Cantrell called that ruling a “step in the right direction.” She also said she welcomed the intervention of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a conservative Republican, on the city’s behalf.

“Our department is a model for constitutional policing in this country,” said Cantrell. “So what this means to me is that the attorney general understands that and has the courage to stand with the city of New Orleans and the New Orleans Police Department.”

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