NEW ORLEANS - Ryan Dalton knows just how violent the streets of New Orleans can be.
“I was shot three times with an AK-47, I sold drugs, I mean I pretty much did any and everything that at-risk and high risk individual do,” said Dalton, 24.
After surviving gunshot wounds and mourning his brother's murder, Dalton has turned his life around. And he's working to lift others out of a violent lifestyle, too.
“When you get a sense of hope and care like somebody out there cares, it gives you the power to want to be motivated and want to push on,” said Dalton.
Dalton coordinates the midnight basketball program for the mayor's comprehensive murder reduction strategy, NOLA For Life. Midnight basketball targets at-risk males between the ages of 16 and 25.
“I feel like if it pulled me out, I feel like that, it has the potential to pull much more than just me,” said Dalton.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu believes his one-year-old program is beginning to work, pointing to a 35 percent drop in murders in the second quarter of 2013 compared to the same time frame last year.
He said it's the biggest decline in years.
“One of the ways we have decided to work on that is to really focus our attention on the front end: prevention, jobs, creating opportunity and law enforcement,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Still, Landrieu admits there’s a long way to go.
“Even on a great day, we're still not as good or anywhere near where we want to be,” said Landrieu. “But the idea was to stop the trajectory of going up, to stabilize it and then to drive it down. This is something that is going to take a very long time.”
Some analysts say it’s too early to tell if a long-term trend is developing, especially because some other important crime indicators have either flat lined or gone up in the second quarter of 2013.
Armed robberies have actually increased in the second quarter of the year compared to the same time frame last year, although they were down in the first quarter. Assaults have flat lined.
“Everybody's thrilled that it's down, but one quarter does not make a trend or a year, or a reversal of the slaughter,” said Tulane criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf.
“The shootings are increasing,” said Tamara Jackson, executive director of the victim’s advocacy organization, Silence is Violence. “You almost have a shooting every day. We have not solved our crime problem because you have a 30 percent reduction in homicides.”
Even with the decline, New Orleans has an exponentially higher murder rate than the average American city. Stakeholders agree it's a multifaceted problem that has to be tackled from different angles.
There's still a long way to go, but those like Dalton believe the city is on the right track.
Analysts also say recent gang indictments and reforms to the New Orleans Police Department are helping.
But they say it could take years for New Orleans to get the murder rate under control.