In The News › Letten: N.O.‘s future depends on tackling crime, corruption

Nov 8, 2006

Source: Associated Press

Letten: N.O.‘s future depends on tackling crime, corruption

Letten: New Orleans’ future depends on tackling crime, corruption
By BECKY BOHRER
Article published Nov 8, 2006
Associated Press Writer

The city’s survival depends on getting a handle on violent crime and corruption and creating opportunities for young people, a
federal prosecutor said Wednesday. “And that’s a heck of a tall order, but that’s something we need to do,” Jim Letten said.
Letten, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Louisiana, spoke during a think-tank’s briefing series. He was joined by state
Supreme Court Justice Catherine Kimball in addressing the rebuilding of New Orleans’ criminal justice system after Hurricane
Katrina.

The system faces considerable challenges. For example, there’s a backlog of court cases; the chief of trials for the Orleans
public defender’s office has asked for additional resources, saying constitutional rights of defendants are being violated; and a
depleted police force has been dealing with violent crime.

Last month, a district court judge ordered that four inmates be released and their trials postponed until the defender’s office
can adequately represent them.

Kimball told the Bureau of Governmental Research breakfast there were problems with the system long before the August
2005 storm, particularly in how the city and state funded it. Court fines and fees have helped fund programs, but Katrina, which
sharply reduced the city’s population, exposed problems with relying on that, she said.

Over the last 14 years, the Supreme Court has funded “considerable programs,” including juvenile justice programs, for New
Orleans, because the city hasn’t taken the initiative, she said. “How that goes about changing, I don’t know.”

Mayor Ray Nagin, in his 2007 budget proposal, listed public safety and bolstering the police department as priorities. A budget
must be approved by Dec. 1.

Kimball and Letten, attending the breakfast meeting with members of the City Council and the police chief, said funding alone
won’t fix the problems the city faces. Katrina just laid bare problems that have existed in the community for years, Letten said.

There are now concentrations of “disenfranchised” residents, and people with guns, in areas like New Orleans’ Central City
and Jefferson Parish, “rampantly killing each other,” Letten said. Police are doing the best they can, he said.

“It’s not going to be tomorrow that we solve this; it’s not going to be next week or next year,” said Letten, who serves on a task
force on rebuilding the system with Kimball and others. But unless nonpolitical decisions are made – and money is put where
it’s needed – “we’re not even going to get the ball rolling.”

“The survival of this town depends on getting a handle on violent crime, corruption, so we can keep and attract industry – diversifying our economy and, for God’s sake, building a decent school system so that kids who grow up in public housing,
poor neighborhoods and Section 8 housing can get the opportunities they need to actually get jobs and not go into the drug
trade,” Letten said.

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Nov 8, 2006

Source: Associated Press

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