NEW ORLEANS — It is often said that drastic times call for drastic measures. And to New Orleans business owner Rhonda Findley, the city's high level of crime and shortage of police officers is drastic.
So this week, Findley began circulating a petition suggesting that the city call in the National Guard to assist the beleaguered New Orleans Police Department. The response was far beyond what Findley expected: more than 850 signatures in just a few days.
She said the tipping point for her was a series of nerve-rattling crimes at her own doorstep.
“My house was broken into. The next night there were four armed gunmen outside my door, 10 feet from my door and my home. Then I was terrorized in my business,” said Findley, who owns a boutique in the French Quarter.
The petition reads, in part: “This petition requests the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans immediately deploy a minimum of 500 active duty La. National Guard members to provide policing presence on the streets of New Orleans to allow NOPD to focus on violent crime solutions, quality of life residents issues, and the task of aggressive recruiting and training of NOPD officers.”
The NOPD is suffering from a 50-year low in troop strength at fewer than 1,100 officers, down from a long-standing goal of 1,600. In 2021, the department lost more than 140 cops while hiring only 41.
“We don't have enough NOPD officers to ensure the quality of life and public safety in New Orleans today,” Findley said.
Findley's proposal is a longshot. National Guard troops are usually only reserved for emergencies such as natural disasters.
“It is an extreme proposition, but if not that, then what?” Findley said.
Activist Nadra Enzi, who goes by the name Captain Black, signed the petition and he’s taking it seriously.
“At what point do we say enough is enough? We don't have enough police officers. And unfortunately the politicians have run out of excuses,” Enzi said.
Most people who wrote comments along with their signature didn't refer to crime statistics or NOPD troop strength. The simply said they feel unsafe.
“I'm tired of living on eggshells,” one person wrote.
“Crime is out of control,” another said.
“I'm terrified living in my own city,” said another.
Given those sentiments, Findley said she hopes her efforts can at least start a serious conversation about any measures that can be used to make the city safer.
The NOPD strongly dismissed the call for outside help, pointing the finger at other components of the criminal justice system as well as the COVID-influenced spike in crime being experienced in other cities.
“Property crime was down 11 percent in 2021, with overall crime down seven percent. An increase in violent crime is not unique to New Orleans. For the last 20 months, since the onset of the global pandemic, NOPD has been the only consistently functioning branch of the criminal justice system,” the NOPD responded in a statement regarding the petition.
The statement goes on to blame the courts and the district attorney’s office.
“Jury trials have been halted again,” the NOPD stated. “We could have 500 more officers and the national guard, but if the charges aren’t brought to court, it’s all in vain. This breeds an environment of lawlessness in which individuals know they will not be held accountable for their actions. The problem does not stem from a lack of NOPD officers making arrests. There has been a proven inability of the system to hold individuals accountable for their actions.”