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New Orleans murders surpass 2021 total with two months left in the year

Officials hope that redeploying more officers to street patrols and hiring civilians for many department jobs, the tide will begin to turn

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New Orleans Police Department

By Missy Wilkinson
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — Dr. Luke LeBas is an emergency medicine physician in the New Orleans area and a self-described gun nut. He knows the caliber of a bullet based on the wound channel it leaves. He can deduce, based on these wounds, what kind of firepower is on the streets.

He doesn’t know why so many more patients are showing up with deadly head and chest wounds. Are the killers better shots, firing at closer range or are they spraying so many more bullets that they increase their odds of a fatal strike?

Of one thing, he’s certain: the level of trauma he and his peers see reminds him of “the bad old ‘90s.”

Two months remain in the year, and the number of murders in New Orleans has already surpassed the 2021 total — a figure which in itself marked a 17-year high. The city has averaged 23 murders per month in 2022, a trend that Mike Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, believes will continue. Neighborhoods with murders in the double digits include Little Woods, Central City, the 7th Ward, Venetian Isles, Behrman and West Lake Forest, data show.

“We’re looking at 270-275 murders by the time the end of the year comes,” he said. “That’s enormous.”

A ‘high water mark’ following multiple high water marks

The bloodiest years in recent history were 1993 and 1994, with 395 and 424 murders respectively. After reaching a historic low in 2018, with only 146 slayings, murders have ticked up each consecutive year. The current total of 223 places New Orleans among the nation’s most murderous cities.

“We have seen those numbers go up from 2019 to 2022, and we are at a high water mark,” said Rafael C. Goyeneche III, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “Every year for the last three years has been a high water mark.”

Nobody can conclusively say what’s driving the violent crime surge in New Orleans and other cities around the country, though pandemic-related instability, more guns and fewer police are among criminologists’ theories.

Goyeneche and many others cite the city’s depleted police force, which stands at around 950 officers, as a contributing factor. And since May 2020, when NOPD’s disbanded several specialized task forces following criticisms from the federal monitor, the department has lacked a proactive policing component, Glasser contends.

Beefing up the force

Earlier this year, the city reeled and officials pointed fingers as the violent crime surge became apparent. In January, District Attorney Jason Williams and Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson sparred over who was to blame, and as the problem worsened, an infuriated City Council began criticizing Mayor LaToya Cantrell for downplaying the crime problem. Council members drafted their own proposed crime plan and more than 400 civic and business leaders organized to create the NOLA Coalition, designed to help finance crime reduction strategies and hold elected officials’ feet to the fire.

In September, Cantrell brought in two NYPD consultants—Fausto Pichardo and Thomas Conforti—to advise the NOPD on how to get a handle on the violence. The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation agreed to foot the bill.

Officials hope that with the recent implementation of some of the consultants’ recommendations, including redeploying more officers to street patrols and hiring civilians for many department jobs, the tide will begin to turn. Cantrell has also earmarked millions in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to increase police compensation and expand outreach programs.

“Six months ago, everyone was flailing,” said NOLA Coalition member Gregory Rusovich. “We didn’t know where the political leadership was going or what actions would be taken to address the surging and tragic crime problem. Now there’s a degree of confidence that action is being taken to help right the ship.”

Signs of progress

Rusovich said it’s too soon to measure the impact of the various strategies, which include stepped up recruiting and expanding the use of surveillance. NOPD officials did not comment on the murder milestone other than to confirm that as of Friday, 223 people had been murdered in New Orleans.

But earlier this month, when the city enjoyed a rare weeklong break between murders, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said the redeployment of uniformed police officers has had a discernible impact on violent crime since its implementation Sept. 25.

“That response, that visibility, it’s all playing a role in discouraging individuals from committing criminal activity,” Ferguson said at an Oct. 11 press briefing.

Glasser agrees it’s too early to know if new tactics are working.

“Most things we are doing aren’t going to have an overnight effect,” he said.

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