The most recent news from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) touts a reduction in crime, which is bound to puzzle crime-weary citizens. "MURDER DOWN MORE THAN 30 PERCENT IN FIRST QUARTER OF 2016" was the headline on an NOPD press release. "According to the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) for the first quarter of 2016," the department boasted, "the number of murders in New Orleans is down 33 percent in the first three months of the year when compared to the same time frame in 2015." The UCR consists of crime statistics compiled by the FBI, so all is on track, right? Read on.
"Comparing the first quarter of 2016 with the last quarter of 2015, overall crime is down four percent," the NOPD release continued. "Person crimes are down 12 percent with a reduction in armed robberies and simple robberies and assaults. Property crimes are down nearly two percent with reductions in burglaries."
Did you catch that? NOPD — correctly — used "the same time frame in 2015" when it compared murder numbers. But when comparing overall crime numbers, NOPD switched to crimes committed in "the last quarter of 2015."
There's a reason for that, says Jeff Asher, a consultant and crime analyst for WWL-TV: "Crime went up in [the first quarter of 2016] compared to the first quarter of 2015," Asher says. "Crime is seasonal. It tends to rise in the last quarter of the year."
Murders in the first quarter of 2016 were indeed down from the same period in 2015, and that's good news. But other news is not so good. "Armed robbery is very similar to last year at this time. Shootings are up," Asher says, adding that property crime is up as well. "Crime is up in general. We had 17,490 crimes in 2013. Based on the numbers so far this year, we're on pace for 19,000 or 20,000 [in 2016]." It's not all bad news, he adds. "Toward the latter half of last year, we saw response times improve," he says. "Basically, because the response times got better, it appears crime went up."
While some have theorized murder rates are down because emergency medical care has improved, Asher says, "I don't think any magic switch was flipped on Jan. 1, 2016." He says medical advances influence numbers long-term, not year to year.
A recent WWL-TV analysis of French Quarter crime over the last four years found that despite millions of dollars allocated to fighting crime there, "overall crime has continued to climb," according to reporter Katie Moore. Asher attributes the uptick in French Quarter crime to dwindling numbers of cops. "At least in New Orleans," he says, "crime tends to go up as NOPD shrinks."
There are signs of hope beyond the murder numbers and the improved response times. NOPD is aggressively recruiting and graduating new officers. "Things are not necessarily good," Asher concludes. "But they're not getting much worse."
Whatever the long-term trends, the city does no one any good by trying to "spin" the numbers.