Just came from a crime meeting at Buffa's Bar & Grill that had been organized in the wake of Wendy Byrne's murder in the Lower French Quarter, a couple of blocks away. The meeting hadn't been formally organized by any group, but seemed to generate spontaneously from discussions on Nola.com's Vieux Carré and Marigny forums. More than 100 people, alerted by email and word of mouth, showed up for the noon meeting -- as did Councilmembers James Carter and Arnie Fielkow, along with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and several members of his staff.
Representatives of the NOPD were not there, and there seemed to be some confusion over whether they were formally invited. Fielkow told the gathering: "I talked to Major Hosli [Edwin Hosli, commander of the NOPD's 8th District] an hour ago, and he had to get permission from headquarters to come. Next time, make sure they have a formal invitation in advance." (Later, Fielkow said "Frankly, it is BS that even if they weren't invited that they didn't come to this meeting.")
After an introduction in which Fielkow stressed that the councilmembers and the DA's staff were there to listen, he and Cannizzaro ended up doing most of the talking, along with a few voluble members of the crowd, who were uniformly frustrated at what they said was poor police response from the NOPD, from taking reports to making regular patrols of the Lower Quarter and Marigny.
Carter called Byrne's murder "shameful and intolerable," and added, "We need visible patrols in these areas. I spoke to Maj. Hosli and that is going to happen. And the city has dispersed the people who repair lights throughout the Quarter, to stay until every light is fixed."
One resident said that she'd seen more patrols in the Quarter since Byrne's slaying than she'd ever seen, and was afraid they'd go away unless the group could come up with a concrete plan of action. But no one in the crowd seemed to know what that would be, other than creating an email and cellphone list for citizen crime reporting.
Cannizzaro spoke about the importance of prosecution, urging the crowd to make sure they come forward and file police reports in every case.
"And what if the police refuse to take a report?" asked one man.
"Then call my office," Cannizzaro said.
"So if they don't come, we should call your office?" said a woman holding a poodle, sounding puzzled.
Lord David, a blogger at Humid City, said that in his experience NOPD officers had refused to file reports on the scene. Thom Kahler, publisher of the crimewatch Web site NOCrimeline, found that ridiculous and suggested that Lord David's "attitude" may be to blame. "Do I have an attitude, too?" asked another man who said NOPD had failed to file a report on his behalf.
Writer Ethan Brown, whose wife was mugged recently, was the most direct member of the group: "What happened to my wife was the result of a total lack of police doing their job. Everyone here should go to the Metropolitan Commision Website. Less than 10% of arrests in New Orleans are made for violent offenses. The NOPD is not remotely doing its job, and yet we're constantly told to cooperate. What are you going to do," he asked the councilmembers, "to make the NOPD do their jobs?"
Fielkow proposed a solution. "Let me suggest a path. I think you need to come up with a laundry list of problems and what the potential solutions are, and I would suggest you schedule a meeting with Maj. Hosli and Chief [Warren] Riley," Fielkow said. He urged the group to come up with an action plan and bring it to him, Carter, and council president Jackie Clarkson. We would like accountability for the police to come from the top. If he won't meet with you, we will request that he appear before council, and if he does not, we will issue a subpoena.
"And if nothing comes from that, you will see the council take the next step."