NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans East business owner Mambo Eula reached out to WWL-TV shortly after her spiritual supply store was burglarized and ransacked.
“The store was just destroyed,” she told a reporter.
But Eula didn't reach out to the station because of the burglary. She reached out because after she called 9-1-1 for the police, she waited for more than 12 hours without a response.
“We waited. And waited. And waited,” she said.
Eula gave up by the time officers arrived more than 12 hours later to an empty store. But WWL-TV was there the next day when, after Eula went to the 7th District Police Station, officers finally met up with her.
“The crime is running rampant in the East,” Eula said. “It's almost like we're in a no man's land out here.”
With troop strength at the New Orleans Police Department at an all-time low, the city has seen the negative impact nearly everywhere: less visibility, bigger call backlogs, longer response times.
Crime and response times the worst in N.O. East
But internal NOPD documents, obtained exclusively by WWL-TV, along with published city statistics, show that while the city is suffering, New Orleans East is experiencing the most crippling consequences.
Data compiled by the Metropolitan Crime Commission shows that during the first quarter of the year, the 7th Police District – which covers New Orleans East – ranked worst in every category of violent crime, which includes homicide, shootings and robberies. It was tied with the 3rd District for the most carjackings.
Those first three months of 2023 match a trend that has been going on for years, said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit criminal justice watchdog group
“The Seventh District is, for the last several years at least, the district with the highest crime rate,” Goyeneche said.
The City Council's crime dashboard echoes those findings. So far this year, the 7th has the most police calls for service, at more than 13,000.
And the police response times to those calls were by far the longest in the city, an average of more than three-and-a-half hours. That's more than double what was seen in the 2nd District, covering much of Uptown, Hollygrove and Gert Town, or the 4th, covering Algiers.
N.O. East struggling to reach full potential
Councilman Oliver Thomas, whose District E covers the East, said the high crime and slow response times have hampered progress in an area still trying to recover from the devastating floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.
“We can't continue to cultivate this district, we can't continue to grow this district if these are the response times,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he frequently hears complaints from constituents about slow, or in some cases no, police response.
“They tell me that the police haven't showed up yet,” he said. “Or that in many cases, the incident is well over by the time they do.”
Internal police memos obtained exclusively by WWL-TV reveal the depth of the problem. The emailed memos, known as “tour of duty reports” were written by captains who oversee district patrols city-wide.
From November through February, the memos show that the 7th District routinely had the largest backlogs of unanswered calls of any of the eight police districts.
For example, the memos show that during the night shift on Feb. 21, the backlog for calls for service in the 7th District was 48 calls, while the next highest backlog was in the 1st at 27 calls. A couple of the calls, the captain noted, had been holding for more than 30 hours.
On the evening of Dec. 16, there was a backlog in the 7th District of 64 calls, the emailed memos show. The total backlog for all the other seven districts combined was 58. Later that night, the backlog grew to 74 calls, including Code One non-emergency calls holding for two-and-a-half days, and an emergency Code Two call holding for 11 hours.
“The documents that you have collected there basically are a by-product of the declining numbers of police officers,” Goyeneche said.
The backlogs are largely because of the NOPD’s crisis-level shortage of officers, now standing at an all-time low of about 915 cops. All parts of the city suffer, but none nearly as much as New Orleans East.
Largest District in the city
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the 7th District has the largest geographical area of any police precinct in the city.
“The people who live here deserve the same attention that people are getting in gentrified black neighborhoods now,” Thomas said.
On some shifts, the memos show, officers from other districts had to be re-directed to the 7th.
“Obviously, it's unacceptable,” Goyeneche said. “And maintaining the status quo is not going to address it.”
Aside from the numbers, some of the memos include observations and recommendations from the captains.
In one note, Capt. Michael Glasser noted the “severely disparate backlog in the 7th” and applauded the officers there for providing the “best possible service under very demanding circumstances.”
Glasser then suggested analyzing the data to come up with solutions such as re-deploying more officers or changing district boundaries.
“We have to change something or we're basically dooming ourselves to suffering through this,” Goyeneche said.
Thomas said he has discussed the problem with interim Chief Michelle Woodfork and has received a positive response.
“I'm encouraged by the fact that the chief said that any extra will come to the people in the Seventh District,” he said.
After business robbed, damaged, owner mulls leaving
But future plans are little consolation to people like Mambo Eula. The business owner estimated her vandalism and theft damages at more than $10,000, serious enough that she has not been able to re-open.
The setback has her wondering whether to remain in that part of the city.
“I'm really torn between staying here and moving my store into a more secure area where I know that if anything happens that the police are not going to hesitate to come, that they'll be right there,” Eula said.
In an emailed statement, interim NOPD Superintendent Michelle Woodfork stated that the responsiveness of her patrol officers is a major focus for her.
“The New Orleans Police Department’s number one priority is public safety and responding to emergency and non-emergency calls is critical to that effort. Our strategic crime plan focuses on the reduction of crime and ensuring that response times are meeting the needs of New Orleans citizens and visitors,” she wrote. “This includes increasing the number of officers patrolling our neighborhoods and deploying police personnel in areas that receive a high volume of calls for service.”
She acknowledged that the 7th has its own unique challenges.
“The Seventh District has the largest geographic area and responds to approximately 20 percent of the emergency calls citywide,” she wrote. “To aid in reducing the overall response time, the Seventh District has implemented and supplemented manpower by deploying district detectives and administrative personnel to assist with emergency calls for service. In the last 14 days, we have seen an almost five-minute reduction in the Seventh District’s combined emergency and non-emergency response times compared to the previous 14 days.”
She said efforts to ease the crunch in New Orleans East is taking place at the same time the department is taking steps to address the problem citywide.
“The NOPD has added over 100 new civilian positions. To date we have hired a total of 74 new civilians including 23 police intake specialists who are handling non-emergency calls. Also, we have contracted with On Scene Services to respond to non-injury accidents and partnered with Louisiana State Police to assist with interstate traffic enforcement from I-610 to Bullard Avenue. This allows us to deploy more officers to the field and aid in response time. In addition, our recruitment and retention efforts are showing progress with less resignations and more recruits hired compared to last year.”
“The NOPD,” Woodfork wrote, “continues to be committed to creating a safer New Orleans and providing a quality of life that the citizens and visitors of New Orleans expect and deserve.”