NEW ORLEANS – Near the end of a 40-minute address about a criminal justice system he says is better than when he took office three years ago, the message from Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Tuesday night was clear.
“Please do not allow financial restraints to stifle our progress at this critical stage of the reform,” he said.
Delivering his annual “State of the Criminal Justice System” address at Gallier Hall, Cannizzaro asked the mayor and City Council to, in essence, put their money where their mouths are and significantly boost the funding for his office.
“We will be unable to continue our current level of output given our dwindling resources.”
But prosecuting criminals is only half the battle, Cannizzaro said. He pointed to recent high-profile killings, including the murder of an innocent 5-year-old girl in Central City, as an example of societal problems he admitted are tough to fight.
“We all know that we will never arrest, prosecute or convict our way out of this crime problem,” he said.
As part of the fight, Cannizzaro says drug counseling, education and job training, as well as diversion programs, can help. Without more of them, he says, the revolving door will only keep swinging.
In addition to new techniques within his office, the district attorney gave credit to partners on the federal level, and he says his office's relationship with the New Orleans Police Department has improved as well.
“The police are making more and better arrests. They are writing better reports and their testimony in court is much improved,” he said.
Cannizzaro says his relationship with the judges is also improving. Last year in his address, he chastised many of them, and challenged them to conduct more jury trials.
“Perhaps I was out of line. Perhaps I was not. Nevertheless we did see an increase in the number of trials that were conducted: 300, a record in the post-Katrina era of our system.”
Most of all, Cannizzaro was passionate in his plea for New Orleanians to remember that issues like poverty, drugs, education and the economy need to be addressed, long term, before real change can happen.
“But if the stakeholders in the criminal justice system are willing to make the tough, sometimes unpopular decisions, then we can make short term gains while we wait for the long term solutions to catch up.”