Holding personal amounts of marijuana has not been decriminalized in New Orleans, but as of Jan. 30, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers can opt to issue a ticket rather than take an offender to jail. At a meet-the-chief gathering the next evening organized by the civic group EngageNOLA, NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas told the crowd that a trip to Orleans Parish Prison wasn't the definite outcome "if I find you with one or two joints in your pocket — not that anyone here would do that." Serpas estimated the new policy would speed the processing of 2,600 annual cases of marijuana possession.
EngageNOLA is an umbrella coalition of several local groups of young professionals and political watchers, and many of the questions Serpas faced at the overflow event at the Columns Hotel had to do with social justice. Through a translator, a Hispanic man brought up something he said many undocumented immigrants fear when reporting a crime: that the NOPD might call in the feds. "It is not the policy of the Police Department to ask immigration status," Serpas replied briskly. "Whether someone is documented or undocumented is of no interest to local police." He added that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, but noted, "The federal government can't get its act together."
As for a long-term solution to New Orleans' crime problem, Serpas repeated his belief that cops can't stanch the crime rate by increasing the number of arrests and incarcerations, though "it might slow it," he said. "But education and a good economy eliminates crime. That's a stone fact."