NEW ORLEANS - The scenes of violence and murder that have become almost commonplace in New Orleans were thrust into the national spotlight during a joint speech on violence Thursday.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu stood with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in Washington, DC as both men took turns delivering a speech regarding violence in America. In Mayor Landrieu’s opening, he started with with a sobering statistic.
“Last year 193 of our fellow citizens were murdered in my city of New Orleans,” he said.
The mayors delivered their speech to the National Press Club. Landrieu called for violent crime to be treated as an issue of public health. He called for collective action from the community where “every parent, every grand parent, every pastor” must become involved in crime reduction.
The mayor also called for a change of attitude, especially when regarding the issue of black on black crime.
“We’ve all heard it before, just thugs killing thugs, there’s nothing we can do about it, but this is a lie,” Landrieu said.
While Mayor Landrieu pushed for a sense of urgency to “marshal every resource - federal, state, local, private, faith-based - to turn the tide”, resources in New Orleans are being stretched to their limits.
The New Orleans Police Department is grappling with a force level that one city council member labeled in “crisis”. Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas says his force of roughly 1,200 officers needs about 300 more officers. As the department has struggled to recruit more applicants, the existing force has had to prioritize how it responds to calls like minor traffic accidents.
“Something is going to give and we don’t like it, none of these officers like going to a call that’s been holding for a couple of hours,” said Serpas at a recent city council meeting focused on the manpower issue.
Serpas told the council that the department doesn’t have the funding to effectively recruit applicants. The non-profit, New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, is working to raise money for advertising campaigns to attract potential recruits but there are challenges. Some have cited the city’s so-called residency requirement that officers must live within Orleans Parish as one of those hurdles. Others are less complex, such as the inability for a potential recruit to apply online.
“That needs to change. The reality is we need more officers, but the other reality is that the officers who are right now on the force are doing a phenomenal job,” said Sandy Shilstone, who chairs the board for the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.
Most agree that simply increasing the number of officers on the street won't simply stem the cycle of violence in New Orleans. But it’s hard to deny that more help is needed on the street.