NEW ORLEANS-- It is an umbrella plan designed to hold back -- and eventually turn the tide -- of murders in the city.
In his State of the City Address, Mayor Mitch Landrieu launched the 'NOLA For Life' plan. It comes at a time when New Orleans is experiencing a dip in murders in the first quarter of the year, yet it remains woefully high when compared elsewhere.
'Making New Orleans safe has been and will continue to be the most important issue facing this city and its future,' Landrieu said.
New Orleans' overall violent crime rate is ranked 79th in the country, after cities like Detroit (#2), St. Louis (#3), Oakland (#6) and Baltimore (#8). When it comes murders, though, New Orleans ranks eighth for having the most murders in the U.S., eclipsing places like Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.
The city's murder rate comes in at number one: seven times the national average, with 175 murders in 2010 and 199 in 2011.
'We must find a way to stop the killing,' Landrieu said in his State of the City Address. 'There is no greater gift that we can leave to future generations and no challenge that is larger and more imminent.'
SUNO criminologist Dr. John Penny said part of the problem lies at the root of the issue.
'One of the issues that we have in this community is idle minds,' Penny said. 'We have people who are not employed, they're not in school, they're not productive.'
That is where the 'NOLA For Life' strategy comes in, as it focusing on five goals:
1) Stop the shootings
2) Invest in prevention
3) Provide jobs and opportunities
4) Improve the NOPD
5) Rebuild neighborhoods and community involvement
'It seemed well developed,' Penny said. 'My concern would be for the implementation -- how many plans have we developed?'
Since 2009, the city's murders have been concentrated in three areas: the Seventh Ward, St. Roch and Central City. Marion Taylor knows all about the crime in Central City, a place with the dubious distinction of having the zip code with the highest percentage of prisoners at Angola.
'We've been here trying to make a difference in the neighborhood,' said Taylor, who runs First Evangelist Housing and Community Development, a non-profit that takes blighted properties and turns them into low-income housing.
Since 1994, Taylor's group has helped redevelop 77 blighted properties in Central City. It's an example of the community involvement called for by the mayor in 'NOLA For Life.'
Taylor said, though, what is also desperately needed in the neighborhood is job training.
'Give them just an incentive to do better in life,' she said. 'It's really needed in the Central City area. As you know, there's crimes on a daily basis.'
Then, there's the NOPD, which is listed in 'NOLA For Life' as needing improvement.
'Since May of 2010, the mayor has been clear, I've been clear and the people of New Orleans have been clear -- that we've got to get this police department fixed,' said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas. 'This fight is a long fight. It's a marathon. It's not a sprint.'
One thing still on the horizon for the NOPD is the Consent Decree, which is still being negotiated with the federal government. In his address, Landrieu said it was '98 percent' finished.
He also proposed another form of federal law enforcement involvement called 'Operation Full Circle.' It is a proposed, short-term strike force of federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors that would help combat gangs and drugs in the city.