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Counting Crimes
New Orleans police crime statistics, long the source of delay, dispute and public skepticism, are expected to draw attention during City Council hearings on NOPD's budget this week. "Where are our crime stats?" asked civil rights attorney Mary Howell. Gambit Weekly put the same query to NOPD spokesperson Bambi Hall. "Definitively, it should be ready by the middle of this month," Hall says. NOPD recently posted second-quarter figures for major crimes on its Web site (www.nopd.com), but Howell and others are still waiting for statistics reflecting crime rates through Sept. 30. "I don't think it's possible to have any meaningful discussion on crime in New Orleans without the data," Howell says, adding that more details are needed as well. "How many of the murders are domestic, how many are drug-related or 'stranger' crimes? How many involve mental illness?" Howell, a longtime proponent of an independent monitor of NOPD, says the department's figures should be audited by outside experts. "I don't believe anybody in town believes this stuff is really accurate," she says of the department's stats. NOPD officials will have ample opportunity to defend their crime-counting practices at the council budget hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday (Nov. 14). -- Johnson

 

Who's Responsible?
Rafael Goyeneche
, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission and a sometime critic of Police Chief Warren Riley, said last week the chief should not be blamed for the city's rising post-Katrina homicide rate. Riley is losing veteran cops at a rate of 17 a month and cannot field a new recruit class for at least six months, Goyeneche says. All 12 criminal courts did not resume operation until Oct. 23, leaving criminals out on the street. "He's basically fighting a fight with one arm tied behind his back," Goyeneche says. "Do you fault the police department because the courts weren't reopened? I don't. You can't fault the police department for the homicides; it's not fair." UNO criminologist Peter Scharf disagrees. He says the rise in homicides is a "system failure, but each component has its responsibility," including NOPD. Scharf says the force needs to do a better job of keeping the public informed with "timely information" about crime as well as research-driven projections of future trends. "We don't have a coherent strategy that they have stuck to and implemented, and that's what is needed for a public buy-in," Scharf says. "And let's face it, we're dealing with an epidemic." -- Johnson

 

No 'Blue-to-Do' in LA
Democrats nationwide were celebrating the capture of the U.S. Senate and House after last Tuesday's elections, but there was no "blue-to-do" in Louisiana. Only one congressional candidate endorsed by the Louisiana Democratic Party's State Central Committee won outright in the Nov. 7 primary. A second faces a run-off against a fellow Democrat, and the party couldn't even field a candidate in one congressional district. In the First District, Democrat David Gereighty polled only 7 percent, falling to GOP incumbent Bobby Jindal, who won 88 percent of the vote. In the Second District, Democratic endorsee and state Rep. Karen Carter faces Democratic incumbent William Jefferson in the Dec. 9 runoff. Third District incumbent Democrat Charlie Melancon won a rematch against Republican Craig Romero, 55 percent to 40 percent. In the Fourth District, GOP incumbent Jim McCrery clobbered his Democratic opponent, 57 percent to 17 percent. In the Fifth District, Democratic endorsee Gloria Williams Hearn captured only 29 percent against Republican incumbent Rep. Rodney Alexander, who received 68 percent. Democrats couldn't find a challenger against GOP incumbent Richard Baker in the Sixth District; Baker routed a Libertarian candidate, 83 percent to 17 percent. And in the Seventh District, Democrat Mike Stagg fell to GOP incumbent Charles Boustany Jr. , 83 percent to 17 percent. -- Johnson

 

One Person, One Vote
You can use it for financial reasons or to make important decisions if your health is failing -- but don't try to invoke a power of attorney (POA) to cast your vote. The state attorney general's office recently opined that a POA, which authorizes a person to act on someone else's behalf on business or legal matters, cannot be used at the polls, on a mail ballot or in conjunction with any other voting vehicle. "A person's fundamental right to vote cannot be assigned to another person through a power of attorney under the Louisiana and United States Constitution(s)," the opinion states. Sen. Butch Gautreaux, a Morgan City Democrat, says he requested the ruling on behalf of a voter in his district. "I have a constituent who is blind and she can't get out of the house," he says. "I know she is allowed a mail ballot, but I thought there might be another remedy available." While the opinion didn't go into greater detail, in theory, a POA could eventually lead to one person voting on behalf of hundreds or thousands that are otherwise occupied. And while that's allowed at corporate shareholder meetings, it won't fly in public elections, according to the AG's office. -- Alford

 

The Bayou Home
The Louisiana Fishing Community Recovery Coalition, an industry group consisting of commercial and recreational interests, has received a $20 million commitment for its "Back to the Dock" program. The Louisiana Recovery Authority, the agency established to guide the state's recovery, is being asked to oversee and fund the new program that's the fisheries equivalent to the state's "Road Home" program. "The fishing communities are not looking for a hand out, but for a hand up to enable them to return to work and provide quality seafood products to the American consumer," says Mike Voisin, president of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. The LRA would be charged with developing the program, if it's even taken up. Coalition members say theirs is an economic development issue. According to data compiled by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana's pre-storm fisheries sectors contributed a total economic benefit to the state exceeding $3.3 billion. It supported more than 36,000 jobs, generated more than $100 million in state sales tax and more than $23 million in state income tax. Damages to Louisiana's fisheries from Rita and Katrina are estimated at nearly $582 million. That figure includes losses to commercial fishing vessels, recreational boats, seafood processing facilities and wholesaling plants -- but not damages to docks or marinas. The LRA is scheduled to make its final decision on Dec. 15. -- Alford

 

Consultant Left Mark
A consultant who helped shape the political landscape of south Louisiana died earlier this month and was buried in Baton Rouge last Tuesday. That Gary Weiner, 63, was entombed on Election Day comes as no surprise to those who knew him. He cut his teeth about 30 years ago working on the campaigns of former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat, and he later served as Johnston's state coordinator. Weiner went on to manage campaigns for Congressman Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge. In 1980, he founded the consulting firm of Weiner & Weiner Inc., and as president, set the foundation for a business that was still thriving until his passing. Weiner also managed the campaigns of state Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat from Bourg; Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice John L. Weimer; Lafourche District Attorney Cam Morvant II; and state Rep. Loulan Pitre, a Republican from Cut Off. Pitre says Weiner's success was attributable to his ability to keep in constant contact with sources and his willingness to listen. "He was just absolutely knowledgeable about what was going on politically in the Bayou Parish Region and he had a great sense of humor about everything that made him a pleasure to work with," Pitre says. Weiner graduated from Baton Rouge High School, attended Louisiana State University and was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. -- Alford

 

A Game About 'The Game'
Do you love playing fantasy football but find there's not enough double-crossing, back stabbing and male pages? Then FantasyCongress.com is where you need to be. As in other fantasy sports, you -- "The Citizen" -- draft a team of real-life legislators from Congress and score points for your team's successes. You can bench lawmakers or move them into the lineup, based on the upcoming week of legislation. But be careful who you pick. From Louisiana, Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Kenner Republican, tops the rookie list; Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican from Lafayette, fills spot No. 10. Reps. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville, and Rodney Alexander, a Quitman Republican, fall near the bottom of the 147-person field. In the Senate, both Sens. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, and David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, are in the top 10 -- of the sub-category, "lower senators." Game on. -- Alford

 

A History Lesson
If history offers goals for the future, 1961 may be good a place to start. Then-NOPD Police Chief Joseph Giarrusso reported one "criminal homicide" in the city for November of that year, according to the Dec. 10, 1961, issue of The Times-Picayune. The city then boasted more than 600,000 people. Fast forward to last week. Orleans Parish Chief Coroner's Investigator John Gagliano said there were 146 homicides for the year, as of Nov. 9 -- and the city's population is somewhere between 187,000 and 230,000. Gagliano notes there were 221 homicides at the same time last year, after Hurricane Katrina had emptied the city of most of its 465,000 residents. NOPD had not released its third-quarter crime statistics by press time. The department's tally of violent deaths is always lower than the coroner's office because the NOPD does not include "justifiable homicides" -- a legal determination (not a medical conclusion) in the eyes of death investigators. The disparity in counting often triggers confusion. The basic rule of thumb is this: every murder is a homicide to the coroner, but not every homicide is a murder to NOPD. -- Johnson

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