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Thursday, August 7, 2014

At St. Roch crime meeting, residents had questions, but officials had few answers

Posted By on Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 11:35 AM

click to enlarge img_3532.jpg

This summer, 50 Louisiana State Police officers have been patrolling the French Quarter to increase crime fighting efforts in the neighborhood. That's in response to Mayor Mitch Landrieu's request for state and federal assistance after the June shooting on Bourbon Street that left one woman dead and nine others wounded. Those state patrols, however, will come to an end after Labor Day weekend.

At a meeting last night at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in the St. Roch neighborhood — the fourth in a series of community talks about crime organized by District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey — the question was why state police weren't patrolling St. Roch, or any other part of Orleans Parish, for that matter.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro told a crowd of about 30 people that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) was doing all it could, but it was up to residents to demand the police protection from the state that they deserve. "We've had some violent attacks right outside the doors of this church," Cannizzaro said. "We pay taxes in the City of New Orleans, too. Aren't we entitled to that same protection from that same law enforcement agency that's working in the French Quarter? And the answer should be a resounding: Yes, you are."

Of the 64 parishes in the state of Louisiana, 63 are patrolled by state police, Cannizzaro said, while Orleans Parish is not. "Why is that?" he asked. 

The overwhelming question from the audience was what any of them could do about it. Cannizzaro urged community members to write to Gov. Bobby Jindal to demand additional protection, an answer that 24 year-old St. Roch resident Darrell Tobias didn't feel did the issue justice. "They're the elected officials, they have the influence and guidance," he told Gambit. "I can go on Google and get the address of the governor. I didn't need to come here for that." 

NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly said, as he has in other meetings, that the number of officers on his force has decreased from 112 in 2011 to 79 presently. That discrepancy, said Cannizzaro, comes from the city not allocating the necessary funding to its police department.

click to enlarge Community member Gerald DeSalle at last night's meeting.
  • Community member Gerald DeSalle at last night's meeting.

"The commander has told you that we don't have the same number of officers today that we had a year ago or two years ago or three years ago, and the superintendent can't change that," said Cannizzaro. "That's the money that they give him. If he doesn't have the money, he can't make the changes that are necessary to the district. Certainly the mayor could appropriate the money, and in all fairness to the councilmember, she's only one of seven votes, and she'd need four people in order to get the five votes that I believe to maybe give the necessary funding to the police department. Sometimes you have to do more with less."

Outside the church, the sun was setting behind the St. Roch Playground where a group of kids practiced football.

Tobias said he hopes to start his own movement, cleaning up the neighborhood and putting people to work reducing blight and other ills that lead to an increase in crime.

Bill Murphy, the vice-president of the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association who was attacked and mugged a few weeks ago during a spate of violent attacks, told Gambit that the most frustrating thing is that such a movement already exists. The neighborhood association has been effective in reducing blighted houses, which Murphy called the infrastructure of the drug trade.

"I'm still optimistic," Murphy told Gambit. "It's not just the meeting; the meeting is one thing. There's frustration because we need more neighborhood participation. The more people who get involved, the more young people get involved who see that there are things happening, a lot of times the lack of hope comes because they don't know what's going on.

"A lot of people don't know these things exist. The city works through the neighborhood groups. It's not written in the charter or anything, but you learn that. If you want something to change in your neighborhood, this is the informal process in which the city functions."
Murphy said during the meeting that people in St. Roch are scared, despite the police having added an extra patrol in the neighborhood. 

"I was already scared," Murphy told Gambit. "I never had an illusion that is was all that safe. I understand the dangers of the neighborhood. You try to avoid it. They came around the corner ready to do something. There haven't been that many gangs of kids just running around doing that sort of thing. The violence we see here is more the drug trade. And the drug dealers don't go around just beating people up. Why would you, as a drug dealer? You want people to come to you. That's why I said, this is something different. The drug trade, you avoid the drug dealers and they avoid you. This is a loose cannon thing. It's random."

The neighborhood association will host its own crime meeting August 14 at the St. Roch Community Church at 6 p.m. 

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