NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams swept into office in January riding a wave of reform, promising second chances to low-level defendants, but serious consequences for violent offenders.
In a report released today, however, the non-profit Metropolitan Crime Commission said a statistical analysis of more than 10,000 felony arrests show that Williams is pursuing cases of violence at a much lower rate than his predecessor Leon Cannizzaro.
“This administration indicated that they were going to focus on the lions, tigers and bears. And we're seeing that they're not,” said MCC President Rafael Goyeneche. “The major shift in prosecutions for violent felony offenses can only be explained as a philosophy of this current administration. And that is not what I think is needed to reduce crime.”
The report comes as New Orleans has been hit by a spike in shootings and killings, with 20 people shot, seven fatally, in the past week.
In its report, the MCC crunched three years of statistics and reported that under Williams, acceptance of violent felony arrests for prosecution dropped 21 percent from 2020, while dismissals of those cases have gone up 37 percent. The percentages were similar when using 2019 as a comparison.
“That's a remarkable shift,” Goyeneche said. “Their policies that are in place right now do not suggest that they're not supportive of what the police department is doing.”
Defense attorneys offered a range of opinions about the first nine months of Williams' tenure.
Some say the new DA hasn’t had enough time in office to draw conclusions. Others say Williams is actually giving the public what it voted for by putting police cases under greater scrutiny.
In an emailed statement, First Assistant District Attorney Bob White took issue with the MCC's analysis and the lack of time the office was given to respond, less than 24 hours.
Addressing the bigger picture, White stated that past policies are what made New Orleans the incarceration capital of the world, something they are trying to reverse.
“This cherry-picked data analysis in the MCC October 13 report,” White wrote, “indicates an antagonism to the progressive changes in the criminal legal system that the people of New Orleans voted for, and seeks to cause division when we are working hard with all stakeholders in the criminal legal system to increase safety and justice for New Orleans families.”