New Orleans District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey held two town hall meetings on crime last week, hearing from East Bank residents of District C, which encompasses the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. At a July 21 meeting, held at Holy Angels Convent in Bywater, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly told the crowd he's understaffed. "When I came in 2011, I had 112 officers on staff when I walked through the door," Goodly said. "Right now I'm at 79."
Police Chief Ronal Serpas and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro were there as well. After the meeting, Serpas told Gambit that even though it might seem like change is slow, a lot is happening. "We get about a half a million calls a year," Serpas said. "That's quite a few calls. A lot of our narcotics work, people don't know we're doing it, because that's how we do it. A lot of it is undercover work. It's moving around narcotics dealers in disadvantaged positions. So there's more than one thing going on at a time."
Ramsey told Gambit she was pleased with the level of participation, and that as the council goes into budget hearings for 2015 she will bring with her a number of the issues raised, including officer pay raises and recruitment. "We can't police our way out of crime," she said, adding she would support more community building and educational programs aimed at keeping people safe.
The crowd two nights later at St. Jude Community Center in the French Quarter was larger and their comments more biting — many related to the June 29 shootings on Bourbon Street that left one person dead and nine injured. COPS 8, the organization that supports the officers of the NOPD's 8th District (which includes the French Quarter), passed out signs to show solidarity with officers protecting the neighborhood, though organizer Ken Caron told Gambit he was generally mistrustful of what Serpas and police officials had to say at the meeting.
"The 8th District [Station] was basically in horrible repair before last year, and we basically renovated it at no cost to the taxpayers," Caron said. "It helps morale. We feed the officers during major events because they're working 12-, 15-hour shifts ... We don't have enough people on the streets. They're passing out Kool-Aid, is what it is. They passed out Kool-Aid and said, 'Listen to this, and this is what we're doing,' and the fact is we're two officers down for every one that's getting hired. It's Groundhog Day; it's the same thing over and over."
Ramsey's next District C crime town hall will take place Aug. 5 on the West Bank at the Algiers Regional Library.