Robert Morris 
Member since Aug 1, 2012

Recent Comments

Re: “Is New Orleans crime ‘out of control’?

Here are a couple of responses to Owen's concerns about the manpower issue and, of course, the statues.

The city of Miami Beach Police Department -- a separate municipality which bears the brunt of "Miami" tourists -- has 373 sworn officers for about 88,000 residents. That's a per capita rate of about 40 percent higher than New Orleans. Tourist population is obviously germane to a discussion the size of police forces, since responding to crimes against tourists (and by them, I guess) represent additional work for police.

But I have long felt that "per capita" is an extremely oversimplistic way of measuring the proper size of a police force, as it just ignores too many factors that are relative to the amount of policing needed. To better approximate the size of the force needed, I think what is ideal would be some sort of weighted calls for service metric, that measures the number of calls the police receive, weighted by the amount of manpower those calls take to answer (stolen or lost property, presumably, takes a lot less police response than homicide).

This metric doesn't exist, to my knowledge, but we can use another statistic like "violent crime" -- ie, murder, rape, robbery and assault -- as a stand-in for that. If we just look at officers per violent crime (using the 2013 FBI uniform crime reports), New Orleans is fairly middle of the pack in its staffing around the region. Tampa, El Paso, and Austin all have more officers to deal with each violent crime than New Orleans, while Nashville, Miami (as you note) and Memphis all have fewer officers to deal with each violent crime than New Orleans does. [I'd love to see this explored more formally, by the way, but the first group have much lower violent-crime rates than New Orleans, and the second group have much higher rates than New Orleans -- does the presence of fewer officers per violent crime really correlate to more violent crime per capita?]

Criminologists observe that different departments report violent crimes differently, however, whereas murder numbers are harder to fudge. So with that in mind, if you look at officers per homicide, New Orleans looks like the most understaffed city in the United States. We have roughly 7.5 officers for every homicide. Most of the 15 Southern cities I looked at had about 3 times that rate. The closest was Jackson, with about 9 officers per homicide. Atlanta has 22 officers per homicide. Orlando has 42 officers per homicide. Austin has 64 police officers for every homicide -- a force of 1,675 officers but only 26 homicides in 2013.

So, judging from those hard numbers instead of population, New Orleans appears understaffed. You may choose to pay attention to other hard numbers if you prefer, but they aren't the only ones.

And regarding the statues, in order to argue seriously that city resources were diverted from the crime problem to the statue question, you simply have to provide evidence that this is true. For that evidence to be meaningful (rather than just rhetorical), I think you have to show a pattern over time, rather than single anecdotes. How many hours or dollars were spent on the NOPD chief's recommendation regarding statues? That sounds like a half-day's work for a single staffer at best. Would four hours of that administrator's time have prevented any crime? The amount of NOPD time spent on the statues versus responding to crime is miniscule, as is the ability of other city agencies to prevent crime.

If you believe that any attention to the monuments is "frivolous," that's an argument that deserves to be debated on its own merits. But to charge that it wastes city resources that could be better put to use reducing crime, that's another claim altogether, and I think the evidence for it is scant at best.

7 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Robert Morris on 10/19/2015 at 11:26 PM

Re: “"It wasn't a blank slate"

Megan may be my favorite writer in the city for her unflinchingly personal and honest perspective. Seriously, I get a little tired of navel-gazing about the ineffable special magic beignet powder of New Orleans too, or the official narrative of its Disney-voodoo resurrection -- but I won't get tired of anything Megan writes, because it's so deeply rooted in her own memories and observations. While I might personally think that Chili's is wretched, that's the dominant paradigm in a place like this -- and I think defending Chili's (or at least asking people not to be judgmental toward those who like it), as Megan does, is much more interesting to read about.

More importantly, I'd generally agree that "many decisions made by politicians are only made to help build a utopian New Orleans for whomever is spending the most money, regardless of the impact on everyday folks." Tourism activity, retail dollars, property values and so forth... This was the key to the infamous go-cup debate, for example -- not a moralistic effort to purge alcohol from neighborhoods, but an economic effort to raise property values by reducing litter (note that the resolution -- requiring logo-printed go cups -- not only achieves the original goal but also increases cup purchasing and extends local branding. win-win-win!). This is the story not just of New Orleans, though, but of every urban center in our country, and it's why the city is becoming more generic -- not suburban generic, like the Cleveland or wherever everyone else is telling everyone else to go back to, but the more cosmopolitan generic of New York or San Francisco.

In one way it's inevitable. Money and power structures cannot help but try to perpetuate themselves, and no one (especially no politician) would support less economic activity, or trying to keep out newcomers. Sadly, as a result of the scale with which it's taken place here, I think some of the genuine weirdness New Orleans has lost is now gone for good, hiding among the cheaper rents of the suburbs we turn up our noses at. (And actually, to those who think New Orleans exists in spite of the rest of Louisiana, I actually see it as only possible in Louisiana. Well, South Louisiana anyway.)

But on the other hand, I think we can slow the rate of change to a manageable pace, just by looking out for one another on a personal level. Get to know your neighbors, and talk to them. Call out landlords who unfairly jack up rents, or government policies that encourage displacement of people who are trying to hang on to family-owned property.

And, maybe, do so under your real name. I notice that the vast majority of those who write here in support of Megan's essay do so under their name or at least a well-established nickname, while those who had problems with it seemed to make up screen names to criticize with. I think that's just as telling as their defensive reactions to her idea that the city might not need their saving.

35 likes, 4 dislikes
Posted by Robert Morris on 12/31/2013 at 10:47 AM

Re: “Times-Picayune to launch its tabloid product, TP Street, on Monday

Mark, we've never met and I want to say what an admirer I am of your work on behalf of this community, for years and years while I was still just reading from the outlands of Houma and Hattiesburg. That also extends to your reasoning to stay at the TP; I believe I recall you writing on Twitter last year that the paper still seemed the best platform to continue your work, and that decision made great sense to me and I applaud you for it.

But, to equate "electronically by pdf" with "delivery" is as gruesome a propaganda tactic as your bosses' description of this product as a step forward. I think it's an insult to the readers who miss what everyone else thinks of as newspaper "delivery" and I strongly doubt you'd allow such a deceptive use of language by the sources you cover.

The creation of "TP Street" -- ie, a return to print schedule the company tried to abandon -- is a retreat, as the article so factually states. Would we be seeing this if not for The Advocate? Hard to imagine... just as it's hard to imagine that paper creating a New Orleans edition, luring tens of thousands of subscribers and recruiting so many of your talented colleagues prior to the "digital transition." The only thing TP Street is "fighting back" against is a cascading series of bad business decisions in the ongoing Newhouse experiment with the TP.

22 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by Robert Morris on 06/20/2013 at 12:05 AM

Re: “Public Transit Tuesdays: Leonidas

Megan -- love the discussion of neighborhood names, something I deal with on a regular basis. The even-newer "new" residents of the so-called Black Pearl don't like that name either, and prefer "Uptown Triangle" -- which is so neutral that it could pretty much be anywhere Uptown.

Also, I'm told that Pigeontown is also seen as derogatory? The Pigeontown Steppers make proud use of it, but the neighborhood association there is called "Pensiontown." In our articles, I usually go with the more neutral "west Carrollton."

See you in two weeks. - Robert

2 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Robert Morris on 08/01/2012 at 12:34 PM

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