NEW ORLEANS — The increase in violent crime in New Orleans in 2020 compared to 2019 is actually part of an even more troubling five-year upswing, according to a report released Thursday by the non-profit Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Looking at the city’s 2020 crime statistics measured against the previous four years, the MCC study found that homicides were up 36 percent compared to the four-year average and non-fatal shootings were up 56 percent.
Even more alarming is the increase in carjackings. New Orleans police recorded 232 last year, compared to an average of 122 a year over the previous four-year period. That represents a 90 percent increase.
“By looking at a five-year crime trend pattern, you can see that crime has climbed significantly in 2020, the year of the pandemic,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit criminal justice watchdog group.
The MCC study goes beyond year-to-year comparisons to try and identify longer-term crime patterns. For example, the 202 homicides recorded in the city last year represented a 67 percent spike from the previous year’s tally of 121 killings. But while some considered the sharp increase an anomaly because 2019 marked a 40-year low for bloodshed in the city, the 36 percent increase over the five-year period shows that the jump does not appear to be a one-year statistical fluke.
There were some positive trends in the statistics, including a 26 percent decrease in armed robberies and a 39 percent decrease in home burglaries in 2020 compared to the previous four years. But even those numbers reveal some troubling shifts in crime patterns.
For example, the decrease in home burglaries was accompanied by a 26 percent increase in auto burglaries, signaling that thieves are now targeting cars more than houses.
And the decrease in armed robberies can be partially attributed to some of those robberies now being categorized as carjackings when vehicles are taken at gunpoint along with wallets, purses, cell phones and jewelry.
“Some people who have been committing car burglaries have apparently graduated to robbery,” Goyenche said. “And more and more, robbers are taking vehicles and turning those crimes into carjackings. Those shifts require the police to change their tactics.”
The report also broke down the statistics by police district, showing that about 50 percent of the city’s violent crime – killings and shooting – in 2020 occurred in the 5th and 7th district. The 5th includes the upper and lower 9th Ward, Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods, while the 7th is made up almost entirely of eastern New Orleans.
Goyeneche said this pattern coincides with the larger geographic areas of those two precincts being patrolled by a shrinking number of patrol officers. He said the department not only experienced a net loss of officers in 2020, but troop strength also was diminished by furloughs and the elimination of overtime due to the city’s budget crisis.
By comparison, the 8th District – including the French Quarter and CBD – had the highest concentration of officers along with the lowest crime levels.
“The 8th district has overall been the safest district in the city and that appears to be because they have the largest police presence in the city,” Goyeneche said. “Even though finances are strained, the city has a responsibility to protect life and property. The city is going to have to prioritize that.”
While furloughs have been lifted for the police department, the overtime ban remains in place. Goyeneche said the city would be wise to strategically restore overtime to address pockets of crime in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.