Thursday, March 26, 2015

Listen: Uptown Messenger on NOPD task forces being diminished, consolidated

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 5:36 PM


This week in Gambit, Robert Morris of Uptown Messenger reported on how specialized New Orleans Police Department task forces designed to prevent crime before it occurs had been eroded by reassigning officers.

Today he spoke with WWNO-FM's Eve Troeh about the story and its implications. You can listen to the report here.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mayor Landrieu proposes French Quarter quarter-cent tax to pay for State Police presence

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 5:50 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu and businessman Sidney Torres. - JEANIE RIESS
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu and businessman Sidney Torres.

At a press conference in front of the New Orleans Police Department's 8th District Command Center in the French Quarter this afternoon, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, flanked by New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Chief Michael Harrison, a dozen local and state lawmakers and members of the business and tourism community, proposed a quarter-cent tax hike within the boundaries of the French Quarter to keep Louisiana State Troopers in the French Quarter to prevent crime. 

Landrieu billed the tax as a sustainable revenue source to pay for a permanent State Police presence in the French Quarter, though it would have to be approved by the New Orleans City Council and voters would decide whether or not to impose the tax in an October 2015 election. With 9 million people visiting the French Quarter each year, Landrieu said a quarter of every cent spent there would total $2 million annually. 

The press conference followed a violent weekend in the city's tourism hot spot, which saw a shooting death at Bourbon and Conti streets and an aggravated rape in the 200 block of Bourbon. Other violent crimes included two cases of simple battery in the 500 and 700 blocks of Bourbon Street and a case of aggravated robbery in the 900 block of St. Louis Street. All five crimes took place in the nightlife- and tourist-heavy Upper Quarter.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A New Orleans City Park tree-sitting protestor speaks out

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 2:54 PM

A partially killed live oak within the construction zone. - JULES BENTLEY
  • A partially killed live oak within the construction zone.
As a longtime, dues-paying Friend of City Park, it took me a while to get on board with the effort to save the wild public land that City Park CEO Bob Becker and the Bayou District Foundation nonprofit want to turn into a high-end golf course. The campaign seemed too little too late, or worse, an example of people who didn't live through the trauma of the flood but romanticized a wrecked version of the city.

The arguments against rebuilding the golf course accreted gradually— learning just how much that wild stretch meant to so many New Orleanians from all walks of life, learning how dire the economics of golf are in 2015, and learning about the sinister neoliberal elements of the "East Lake model" that the Bayou District Foundation, chaired by George H.W. Bush, seeks to emulate. When it was shown to me that, despite originally promising to only restore land that had previously been golf course, several far older cypress and live oaks and a fat slice of the Couturie Forest were being consigned to the ax, I was swayed.

The tree-sit protest ongoing in one of the now fenced-off public area's threatened cypress is, as far as I know, without local precedent. In the mid-'90s, a group of Loyola faculty and students sat at the base of a cypress tree that the University's then-president wanted to cut down. "We lasted for weeks, but then the end of the semester came," said Dr. John Clark. "We were sitting, and it was a tree, but I'm not sure that made it a tree-sit." Now, Dr. Clark is among many New Orleanians who've begun spending free time at Harrison Circle to show support for the young people in one of the threatened trees. Yesterday, after four days in the tree, one of the sitters came down. I spoke to her the evening of her descent.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Louisiana has 1,163 untested rape kits

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 7:00 PM

click image DNA representation. - ANDY LEPPARD/FLICKR
  • DNA representation.

In 2014, state Sen. J.P. Morrell authored legislation to inventory the state's untested sexual assault DNA collection kits. Statewide criminal justice agencies were to report their inventory to the Louisiana State Police crime lab by Jan. 1. That report found 1,069 untested sexual assault kits still in law enforcement custody statewide, as well as 94 untested pediatric kits at two health care facilities.

All parish sheriff's departments responded to the inventory (which was mandatory under the new law), while only 185 of 315 police departments responded. The Kenner Police Department is among dozens of noncompliant agencies that did not report their inventories. (All state university campus police departments reported no untested kits in their custody.)

New Orleans Police Department reported 200 untested kits in its custody (Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office reported that is does not have any in its custody). Alexandra Police Department reported 158 untested rape kits in its custody. In Lafayette, the police department has 60 while the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office has 34. Shreveport Police Department has 76, Hammond Police Department has 42, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office has 58, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office has 54 and Ouchita Parish Sheriff's Office has 52.

Among health care facilities in New Orleans, the ER department at Children's Hospital reported 81 untested kits and the Audrey Hepburn Children at Risk Evaluation Center reported 13. (That brings New Orleans' total to nearly 300 untested kits in citywide possession.)

Rape kits collect sensitive DNA information that is uploaded to an FBI database that connects criminal justice agencies nationwide — possibly linking other cases and offenders.

“What this data says to us is that we have a problem that needs addressing and the fact that there are any untested pediatric kits at all is especially troubling and disturbing,” Morrell said in a statement. “We must do everything within our power to ensure that the outstanding pediatric sexual assault kits, that have never been picked up by law enforcement, are put on the record, investigated and resolved to bring justice to these young victims."

Morrell said addressing these kits will be in his 2015 legislative package.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Know your rights, teen edition: New Orleans Public Library to hold rights seminar with NOPD

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 7:28 PM

NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly meets with students last month. - NOPD
  • NOPD
  • NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly meets with students last month.

While a national conversation about police brutality and racial profiling continues, the Alvar Branch of the New Orleans Public Library (913 Alvar St.) is doing its part to educate young patrons about their rights when interacting with the police.

On Saturday, Jan. 17 the Alvar Branch Teen Program invites young people to ask Roderick Franklin, the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) 5th District Community Coordinator, questions about their rights.

Charlotte Horne-Hoonsan, a coordinator for the library, drew up a flier to advertise the event that asks the following questions: Do I have to show my ID? Can I film the Police? What should I do if I feel like I have been mistreated or discriminated against by an officer? What does reasonable suspicion mean? When does an officer need a warrant to perform a search?

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Drawn and (French) Quartered: A spate of violent crime in the Vieux Carre has some blaming Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Posted By and on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 5:05 PM

Paul Melancon, a French Quarter bartender, says he's moved out of the neighborhood, partly because of safety concerns. - JEANIE RIESS
  • Paul Melancon, a French Quarter bartender, says he's moved out of the neighborhood, partly because of safety concerns.

John Hoff has owned and managed Fahy’s Irish Pub on the corner of Toulouse and Burgundy Streets for 20 years. Tourists staying in the hotel across the street often come into the bar for a cocktail before they explore the Quarter, and Hoff says they sometimes ask him if the neighborhood is safe. His answer, he says, has always been the same for two decades.

Until about six weeks ago.

“I generally would tell them, ‘Yes, it’s safe, just be careful,’” Hoff said. “‘Be aware of your surroundings’ and stuff. Lately I can’t honestly say that. When tourists walk in and say, ‘Are we safe in this neighborhood?,’ I can’t honestly say yes.”

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sid vicious? Former trash king Torres fires at Mitch Landrieu over French Quarter safety

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 10:18 PM

In this screengrab from a television ad, former French Quarter garbage collector Sidney Torres IV criticizes Mayor Mitch Landrieu for not keeping the French Quarter safe. - YOUTUBE
  • In this screengrab from a television ad, former French Quarter garbage collector Sidney Torres IV criticizes Mayor Mitch Landrieu for not keeping the French Quarter safe.

If anyone should know about trash in the French Quarter, it's Sidney Torres IV, whose SDT Waste & Debris Services kept the Vieux Carre sparking clean and lemony-fresh under a city contract in 2007, continuing for several years after Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods. After a fallout between Torres and the city in 2010, the city eventually went with a less lemony-fresh garbage contractor, and the man who was nicknamed "Trashanova" for his luxuriant hair and tight T-shirts moved on to other business concerns, including a Bahamian resort. But Torres retains a home on Esplanade Avenue just out of the French Quarter (where he's had scraps with a neighboring business over noise concerns).

Torres' house was broken into in December during a stubbon crime wave in the French Quarter and surrounding areas, and that seems to be the impetus behind his latest venture: a commercial criticizing Mayor Mitch Landrieu for not keeping the French Quarter safe. In the 30-second ad, Torres says:

"The French Quarter's under siege by criminals. You may ask what qualifies me to comment on crime in the French Quarter. I'm a resident and my company cleaned every inch of that neighborhood. I know it like the back of my hand." 

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

French Quarter residents rally for more police protection

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Sydney McMath holds a sign in Jackson Square. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Sydney McMath holds a sign in Jackson Square.

More than 100 people gathered in Jackson Square this evening to demand more police presence in what many residents fear is a growing area for violent crime. The rally — held on the first night of Carnival, about an hour before the Krewe de Jeanne D'Arc marched down Decatur Street and a few hours after Mayor Mitch Landrieu officially kicked off the city's 2015 season — followed growing frustrations from residents during a particularly violent end of 2014. While Landrieu said the city was making progress with lowering its murder rate last week, French Quarter residents posted signs reading "Caution: Walk in large groups. We [heart] the NOPD. We just need more."

People at the rally called for more police, whether boots on the ground belonged to NOPD officers, Louisiana State Police (who beefed up police efforts during the Sugar Bowl and New Year's events) or other law enforcement. Several people broke out in chants, including "What do we want? Troopers! When do we want them? Now!" and "Where's the mayor? What's the plan?"

"We'll take what we can get," said Edith Sercovich, who said her street recently has seen a murder, beatings and robberies. Sercovich handed out signs reading, "Welcome to Landrieuville! Home of Robbers, Stabbers & Rapists."

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Anti-crime rally set for Jackson Square Jan. 6

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 12:03 AM

The Facebook page for an anti-crime rally scheduled to be held in Jackson Square on Jan. 6, the evening that the Carnival season kicks off in New Orleans.
  • The Facebook page for an anti-crime rally scheduled to be held in Jackson Square on Jan. 6, the evening that the Carnival season kicks off in New Orleans.

A Facebook-organized anti-crime rally is scheduled to be held Jan. 6 — the first night of Carnival season — in Jackson Square, but representatives for the city say that organizers haven't applied for permits for the rally.

The rally was announced last week on a Facebook page by organizer Helen Landry:

Violent crime is on the rise in the French Quarter and it needs to stop now! Join us at a public rally in Jackson Square to send a loud & clear message to Mayor Landrieu, Councilwoman Ramsey and Police Chief Michael Harrison that WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT anymore!

We don't want to become a vigiliante city. We want the city leadership and NOPD to step up and take back control of our streets before we lose tourists and before any more residents are mugged, injured or killed.

Stand up and let your voice be heard on Twelfth Night: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! We demand to live in a safer city by Mardi Gras! 

"I have no beef with anyone," Landry wrote in an email to Gambit in response to a query. "I just want safer streets."

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

NOPD still working to clear backlog of rape kits

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2014 at 7:15 PM

click image A representation of DNA. - CREATIVE COMMONS/ANDY LEPPARD
  • A representation of DNA.

Despite an effort that began in 2012 to clear a backlog of hundreds of untested sexual assault kits, the New Orleans Police Department estimates it has 400 untested kits in its custody.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice found that NOPD had more than 800 untested rape kits (some held from the '80s and '90s), which contain fragile DNA evidence collected from victims that, when uploaded to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), can potentially match DNA profiles with other offenders across federal, state and local criminal justice agencies. NOPD ultimately made two dozen arrests from CODIS "hits" and made several convictions.

Last year, then-NOPD sex crimes cold case Det. Merrell Merricks told Gambit its backlog had been "virtually eliminated." But Merricks turned up in a November Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that alleged that Merricks and four other detectives botched dozens of sexual assault cases and failed to follow up 86 percent of them from 2011 to 2013. The report alleges that Merricks had reported that the state DNA lab found no evidence in one victim’s rape kit — but the OIG found that the kit was never submitted to the lab. It never moved from NOPD Central Evidence and Property.

Today, Commander Paul Noel — who helmed the backlog efforts and has been assigned to lead a new task force following the damning OIG report — told members of the New Orleans City Council that there are still "in excess of 400" untested rape kits. Along with the backlog of untested kits, the OIG report found that as of Oct. 3, there were 52 outstanding CODIS hits that detectives failed to follow up — even after the DNA was submitted for testing.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell passed a bill this year to make statewide criminal justice agencies report to the Louisiana State Police (LSP) how many untested rape kits are in their possession by Jan. 1, 2015. NOPD's spokesman Tyler Gamble told Gambit that NOPD will perform a breakdown of the untested kits in NOPD over the next several days, and assured that all evidence remains permanently with NOPD.

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