In The News › Anti-crime officials discuss rise in violence

Nov 9, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Anti-crime officials discuss rise in violence

Anti-crime officials discuss rise in violence
Judge: City financing for justice falls short
Thursday, November 09, 2006
By Gwen Filosa
Staff writer

New Orleans has historically failed to pay for its own needs when it comes to criminal justice, a
Louisiana Supreme Court justice said Wednesday, during a breakfast meeting over the city’s
rising tide of violence since last fall’s hurricanes significantly reduced the population.

“As long as I’ve been a judge, the city of New Orleans has never adequately funded its criminal
justice system,” Justice Catherine Kimball said Wednesday. “We have funded considerable
programs for the city because the city has never stepped up to the plate and funded it. Any city
that wants to be a safe city is going to have to step up to the plate and put their resources there.”

Kimball, first elected to the Supreme Court in 1992, didn’t delve into specifics but mentioned the
city’s juvenile justice system twice during her remarks. She said the city poorly finances criminal
justice departments “across the board” and relies far too much on “self-generating revenue.”
Also, Kimball said the system’s employees get far less pay than their colleagues in other
parishes.

In Orleans Parish, the public defender program was left flat broke after Hurricane Katrina,
because it is largely paid for through fines and fees from traffic court. When the city was crippled
by the flooding and storm, no money came through.

Fourteen months after Katrina, the criminal courts just last week returned to a full-time schedule.
Kimball, who is from New Roads, said she isn’t from New Orleans and doesn’t “run here,” so she
decided to speak her mind. The morning meeting, held at the Riverfront Hotel downtown, was
sponsored by the Bureau of Governmental Research, or BGR, a private nonprofit that monitors
government spending in the metropolitan New Orleans area.

In attendance were several Orleans Parish criminal district court judges, including Chief Judge
Raymond Bigelow, City Council members James Carter and Stacy Head and Police
Superintendent Warren Riley.

The meeting’s topic was “Rebuilding New Orleans’ Criminal Justice System,” but the group’s
second speaker, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, said the city’s crime rate isn’t the fault of Katrina. He
blamed poor public schools and neighborhoods were poverty is rampant and the disenfranchised
are highly concentrated together for creating an economy where drug dealing is considered a
step up.

New Orleans won’t recover from the storm unless it reduces violent crime, Letten said.
“We’ve had a significant spike in violent crime,” said Letten, who has served as U.S. attorney in
New Orleans for the past five years and has been a prosecutor for more than 20. “The survival of
this town depends on getting a handle on violent crime, and, for God’s sake, getting a handle on
the education system.”

With terrible poverty and failing schools, New Orleans has raised a generation of people who
solve their disputes with gunfire, Letten said.

“We had one guy shot in the chest because he inadvertently stepped on the dice they were
playing with in the street,” Letten said. “They are shooting each other over girls, finger gestures
and parking spaces.”

Letten said the New Orleans Police Department is making a “huge amount” of arrests in the
city’s hot spots, including Central City, while federal prosecutors are routinely securing charges
against criminal suspects. He said NOPD needs a state-of-the-art computerized system to
record police reports and leads.

Yet the public’s trust is also a critical factor in reducing crime, Letten said. “Citizens have to trust
and rely on law enforcement enough that they report it. You can’t have a crime scene where 50
people saw it and no one comes forward.”
. . . . . . .
Gwen Filosa can be reached at gfilosa@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3304.
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Nov 9, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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