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'Abysmal' Homicide Data
District Attorney Eddie Jordan's office accepted only 20 of 37 homicide cases brought by New Orleans Police for prosecution in 2006 -- an acceptance rate of just 54 percent. "The rest were dismissed" for reasons that varied from an incomplete police report to a lack of witnesses, says Craig Famularo, veteran chief of the DA's homicide division. The accepted cases represent only 23 percent of the 162 murders in 2006. "That's pretty abysmal," says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission. Meanwhile, the DA's office has not received any referrals from NOPD in more than 100 other murders that shook the city last year. The reasons vary from case to case, according to Famularo and Jordan spokesperson Dalton Savwoir Jr. Meanwhile, Goyeneche says not all of the 20 murder cases charged by Jordan's office will result in convictions because of problems that arise later in the process, such as witness availability. Savwoir says that of the four homicide cases tried by the DA's office in 2006, only one resulted in an acquittal. "Therefore, we had a trial conviction rate in homicide cases of 75 percent," he says. True, but that means a conviction rate of less than 2 percent when compared to the 162 murders that occurred in 2006. -- Johnson

 

Wrong Number
The DA's dismissal of nearly half the 37 murder cases brought by NOPD last year contradicts recent claims by Police Chief Warren Riley that the quality of police homicide investigations is improving. During NOPD's budget hearing before the City Council late last year, Riley said the DA's office was accepting "more and more" murder cases for prosecution. In fact, the chief said, the homicide acceptance rate had jumped from 50 percent to 80 percent. The chief's news seemed too good to be true in light of all the finger-pointing last year between Riley and DA Eddie Jordan Jr. The DA's office accepted only 54 percent of the 37 cases brought by NOPD's homicide division last year, and the figure never rose as high as the 80 percent reported by the chief, officials told Gambit Weekly. Earlier this month, Riley told Gambit he got the higher figure from Jordan himself following a lunch that took place "about six months ago." Thousands of crime-weary citizens marched on City Hall three days after our interview with Riley. Many called for both the chief and the DA to resign. Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, says the Jan. 11 march shows that the public is impatient with both Jordan's office and the NOPD. "The DA's office and the police department are joined at the hip. The quicker those officials recognize that ... the better off we'll be," Goyeneche says. Jordan and Riley promise to work more closely together. -- Johnson

 

Change of Commands
Police Chief Warren Riley is expected to announce a replacement this week for Lt. David Benelli, the veteran commander of NOPD's sex crimes unit. Benelli, a 33-year NOPD veteran and a former president of the Police Association of New Orleans, retired Jan. 27. Meanwhile, Riley has made changes in his command staff since outraged citizens marched on City Hall Jan. 11 demanding an end to the spiraling violence. Deputy Chief Steven Nicholas has replaced Deputy Chief Anthony Cannatella as chief of detectives. Cannatella, a veteran former commander of the 6th Police District, has taken Nicholas' old job as chief of operations, assuming responsibility for the eight police districts and special units such as traffic, SWAT and the mounted divisions. Riley told WDSU-TV the transfers were part of a new "community policing" strategy that the NOPD is implementing with help from private consultant and former Houston Mayor Lee Brown. Riley also transferred Capt. Kevin Anderson, the commander of the Vieux CarrŽ District. Anderson changes jobs with Capt. Ed Hosli Jr. , who commanded the Second District Uptown. -- Johnson

 

A Horse is a Horse, Unless it's a Course
Louisiana's senior U.S. senator has filed legislation that would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Sen. Mary Landrieu contends her equestrian-protection bill is a "bipartisan" effort that started last year with an effort to disband the federal inspection program for such slaughters and outlaw human consumption nationwide. Landrieu's bill would amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping or donation of any horse for human consumption. "The slaughter of horses is both cruel and inhumane, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it no longer occurs," Landrieu says. While not particularly popular in south Louisiana eateries, horsemeat is considered a delicacy in Belgium, France, Italy and Japan. Apparently some domestic farms had found a niche market in those countries. -- Alford

 

Senators Bicker Over Morganza Project
Louisiana's two U.S. senators can't seem to agree on how the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection project should navigate the legislative process in coming months. Much of the disagreement centers on the words and actions of a Republican from Oklahoma, Sen. Tom Coburn, who compared the Morganza project to "pork-barrel" spending in December and blocked its passage. The project, an unparalleled undertaking with support from virtually every branch of Louisiana government, has been part of the Water Resources Development Act, also known as WRDA, for seven years, but Congress has been unable to move the measure for a variety of reasons. A last-ditch push was made late last year to pass WRDA, with Morganza included, but Coburn mustered a goal-line stance and stopped the bill. Sen. David Vitter, a Kenner Republican, contends he has addressed the situation. "Sen. Coburn said he supports including the project as a part of the larger WRDA bill and will not oppose moving it forward," Vitter says. Coburn issued his own simple statement. "I support this project being a component of the comprehensive WRDA bill, which is the right way to do it," he says. That's not enough to appease Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, who has filed a stand-alone bill to authorize Morganza. Landrieu argued that Coburn's support is merely a ruse to keep Morganza inside the WRDA bill and kill her proposal. "Insisting that the project be tied to the prospects of a long-overdue WRDA bill, which may or may not be passed this year, simply kicks the matter down the road one more time while a speedier alternative is available," Landrieu says. The 72-mile project would connect levees, locks and other systems in south central Louisiana at a cost of $886.7 million for Category 3 hurricane protection. Vitter says he is moving forward with the WRDA bill and predicts committee passage in the coming weeks. -- Alford

 

OK to Flee Sirens?
If a pair of flashing lights tries to pull you over and the car isn't properly marked with law enforcement insignia, making a run for it might not be a bad idea. At least that's one interpretation of the law, albeit sketchy and possibly ripe for appearance on World's Worst Car Chases. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office recently offered an opinion on the matter that sides with skeptics. "We conclude that conducting traffic stops using unmarked vehicles may result in an unnecessary number of automobile pursuits that could not be prosecuted under the statutes dealing with flight from an officer," the opinion states. Furthermore, state law "requires the pursuing automobile to be marked as a police vehicle." Disclaimer: If you run from the police, that's your problem. Don't blame this newspaper for anything that might happen. -- Alford

 

Building Code Redux?
The state's new, tougher building code, passed in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, is coming under fire. Complaining that the new standards for walls, windows and other intricacies increase homeowner mortgage costs by hundreds of dollars a month, north Louisiana lawmakers want a review that may include placing a moratorium on parts of the code -- or rewriting it entirely. The code will be a hot-button issue in the upcoming legislative session, and possibly in the governor's race later this year. Most of the jawboning has come from elected officials, but now special interests are weighing in. The Louisiana Home Builders Association, an industry lobby with 5,800 members, wants the code to stay as it is. The group recently launched a public information campaign linking the new code to another hot issue: insurance. "The availability and affordability of insurance for our citizens and our businesses across the state are imperative for continued economic development," says LHBA President Erich Ponti. The new statewide building code took several weeks to win legislative committee approval. If this round of debate follows that course, any attempt to change the law will be a slow-moving process. -- Alford

 

Free Tax Help
Loyola Law School is offering its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program again this year from Feb. 5 through April 14. Persons needing help in preparing their income tax returns can meet with student and faculty volunteers in room 113B of the law school's Broadway Activity Center, 501 Pine St., on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. (except for the Saturday and Monday before Mardi Gras and the Wednesday immediately after Mardi Gras). For more information, contact Prof. William Neilson at 861-5668. -- DuBos

 

Help Wanted
The City Council on Thursday (Feb. 1) will consider several pay raises designed to attract city architects after approval of the raises last week by the city Civil Service Commission. The proposed salary increases for architectural historians, preservation architects and landscape architects range from less than $9,000 to more than $12,000 a year in additional pay. The requests were made by the Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Vieux CarrŽ Commission. "We really need architects; we're not getting any applicants," says civil service staffer Doddie Smith. While significant for the cash-strapped city, some of the proposed pay raises may still fall short. For example, if approved by the council, the pay for city landscape architects -- the folks who design parks and other public spaces -- would jump from $25,504 to $34,368 and from $36,119 to $48,665, depending on experience. "Those don't sound very competitive to me," says Elizabeth Mossop, director of the LSU School of Landscape Architecture. "It would be very common for our students to be starting at $40,000 or $45,000 [a year]. I think given a general perception of the uncertainty of the city, they would be offering [more]." Meanwhile, HDLC acting director C. Elliott Perkins told the commission that the proposed salary hikes of $12,000 to $14,000 for architectural historians are "essential" for keeping experienced personnel and would bring New Orleans in line with cities like Baltimore, Charleston, S.C. and Nashville, Tenn. All of the proposed pay hikes would be funded by City Council budget allocations to the VCC and HDLC for 2007. -- Johnson

 

Krewe Marching -- and Remembering
The rollicking Krewe du Vieux kicks off the Carnival season this weekend. Led by The Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, the "scribe of the city's soul," the mule-drawn floats and sub-krewes will march under the theme of "Habitat for Insanity," a thinly veiled reference to New Orleans' laggard recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The parade begins at 7 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 3) in the Faubourg Marigny and proceeds through the French Quarter to Canal Street. There is a somber note to this year's festivities. "The 2007 Krewe du Vieux parade is dedicated to the memory of past marchers Dinerral Shavers and Helen Hill," says Krewe spokesperson Keith Twitchell. The two were who were slain recently in separate, unrelated incidents. For more information, call Twitchell at 943-7970 or visit the Krewe du Vieux Web site, www.kreweduvieux.org. -- Johnson

 

Help for Artists, Musicians
Help is available from two separate sources for artists, performers, musicians and nonprofit arts and culture organizations looking for general legal assistance or help getting a home in Habitat for Humanity's Musicians Village. The Entertainment Law Legal Assistance (ELLA) Project is offering free legal advice through a partnership of the Arts Council, Tipitina's Foundation and Tulane Law School. In addition, Habitat and ELLA volunteers will host two clinics on Thursday (Feb. 1) for musicians and artists seeking a home in Musicians Village. The Habitat clinics will be at 11 a.m. at Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon Ave., and at 6 p.m. at St. Anna's Church, 1313 Esplanade Ave. Volunteers will assist artists wishing to apply for a home and answer questions regarding the application process. For artists, musicians and organizations seeking legal advice, ELLA offers client meetings from 9 a.m. to noon on Fridays at the Arts Council of New Orleans, 818 Howard Ave., Suite 300; and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays at Tipitina's. Since its inception in 2005, ELLA has handled more than 150 clients and provided more than 500 hours of direct meetings with clients. One of the hallmarks of the ELLA Project is to provide free legal assistance from concept to completion, as opposed to programs that meet just one time with a client. Common legal issues addressed by ELLA include intellectual property, business formation, landlord-tenant disputes, and nonprofit formation. For more information, contact the Arts Council of New Orleans at (504) 523-1465. -- DuBos

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