The spat arises almost 10 years after NOPD launched a Web site amid allegations that police were 'down-grading" crime reports and 'fudging" statistics to gloss over the city's crime problem.
Retired newspaperman Thom Kahler's saga began in March 2007, when he received exclusive, detailed NOPD reports of crimes in the Eighth Police District, which he disseminated to an estimated 1,000 residents of the Quarter and the neighboring Faubourg Marigny.
In a Jan. 11 article, The Times-Picayune reported that NOPD discontinued Kahler's access to the reports because the department wanted to avoid providing the same records for all police districts to the daily newspaper. Riley said recently, however, that Kahler's editorializing about NOPD reports caused the department to end the relationship.
'We want the information to go out as it is, not with someone's personal opinion about what happened, who doesn't have the expertise," Riley told Gambit Weekly. 'We appreciate what Mr. Kahler was doing earlier on, but it seemed to grow into something comical and it shouldn't be that way."
'Sometimes, I put some zingers in," Kahler admits, adding that the police reports were often 'boring." He says he wanted to give readers of his Web site, www.nocrimeline.com, more 'perspective."
One Kahler report last May noted 'soaring" auto thefts in the Eighth District and identified popular dump sites for stolen vehicles under the headline, 'Where's Your Car?" Other dispatches criticized public officials, including new DA Keva Landrum-Johnson, often in shrill tones.
Despite doubts about the veracity of police statistics, Kahler says he believes Eighth District Capt. Edwin Hosli and his officers were always 'honest and transparent" during his relationship with them.
Riley says Eighth District residents can still get police reports on neighborhood crimes and trends by sending their email addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Citywide, the chief says, some crimes are posted on the department's Web site (www.nopd.com) within 24 hours, and most are posted within eight to 10 days. Riley adds that NOPD's maps are among the best in the nation.
Kahler disagrees: 'The (NOPD) crime maps are crap. They are out of date."
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission, agrees with the blogger. The public needs 'real-time" crime data to become effective allies of the undermanned NOPD, says Goyeneche, a former prosecutor. Citizens should have the same information police brass use to review neighborhood crime trends each week, he adds. 'Yet, there has been a longstanding reluctance on the part of the Police Department to make this information available to the public."
Goyeneche laments that 10 years after the launching of NOPD's Web site and a year into Riley's community policing initiative, 'We are still struggling with disseminating information about crime on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis."
Meanwhile, Heidi Unter, COO of the private New Orleans Police Foundation, supports the chief's assertion that NOPD leads most police departments in dispensing crime data. And once a new electronic police reporting system is fully implemented, she adds, 'crimes will be posted on the Web site more quickly."
A Gambit Weekly spot check of the NOPD crime maps suggests a need for more accuracy. One district tallied 37 robberies in the first quarter of 2008 " all of which purportedly took place at exactly midnight. Riley says citizens should report any discrepancies to their district commanders.
Ronald B. Jones, a retired deputy superintendent of the Louisiana State Police and expert on police-media relations, says police departments are generally reluctant to share information 'unless it's positive." Historically, more than one police department, including NOPD, has 'screwed with the numbers," says Jones, a criminal justice instructor at both Tulane University and Southeastern Louisiana University at Hammond.
Ultimately, he says the selective distribution of police crime data does not benefit anyone.
'Crime is crime," Jones says. 'You can't put lipstick on a pig."