The Police Chief And The City Council Have A Productively Unproductive Meeting About Crime

After their embarrassing back and forth that went locally viral, Police Chief Shaun Ferguson and D.A. Jason Williams were summoned to appear before the New Orleans City Council. The subject of course would be the recent spike in crime.  Williams is schedule to appear today. Chief Ferguson went on Thursday. Here are 10 takeaways of what went down.

  1. Ain’t no help coming. That’s per City Council President Helena Moreno. If the NOPD is going to do something about crime, they’ll have to do it with the 1058 officers they have. Chief Ferguson would like to have 1400-1500 officers. That’s just not happening. Yes, crime may be spiking, but the funds aren’t.
  • Per Chief Ferguson, the NOPD is doing the best it can with these limited resources. Being perpetually understaffed means the NOPD can’t have a presence everywhere at once. Strategic deployment has been the best way to combat that. In laymen’s terms, that means wherever crime flares, that’s where resources are deployed to put it out.  What happens when crime flares in an area that has had its devoted resources moved elsewhere? City Council meetings like these with the police chief and the DA.
  • It would be nice if we gave an officer a hug or a pat on the back sometimes. Apparently, post George Floyd, officers are suffering from low morale. Really, the profession itself is kind of frowned upon now. Both of these are partly contributing to why the NOPD is having trouble recruiting the limited additional officers the city will pay for. (Side note: you can’t give an officer a hug if you hardly ever see one.)
NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson with NOPD Officers during happier days
  • This low morale, understaffed NOPD has a solved case rate above the national average. But apparently solved rates aren’t as important as clearance rates. Solving a case could simply mean issuing an arrest warrant. Clearing a case means there’s actually been an arrest. Sounds kind of unnecessarily technical? It is. But they didn’t really go into detail about why there’s separate stats. So, I guess the NOPD is doing more with less?
  • The City Council continued its terrible habit of asking technical questions that nobody comes prepared for. How many officers’ own homes in Orleans parish? And do you think tax abatement would be a good incentive for retaining them? How many officers have student loans that could be forgiven as part of a retention policy? How many officers don’t pursue suspects because they have to get clearance from their supervisor? And how many officers get that clearance but are still subjected to PIB complaints? 
  • I’m about to rant. The Council does this all the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s Entergy. It doesn’t matter if it’s the S&WB, the D.A’s office, or the NOPD. They call an emergency accountability meeting, then ask all these technical questions that the reps aren’t prepared to answer. Why? Apparently because they weren’t provided with the questions in advance. In this case, the Chief was there to justify his performance, not give an audit. Yes, the tax abatement and student loan forgiveness questions involve solutions where the Council could actually be helpful. And yes, they’ll probably (hopefully) get the answers later. But It’s just not a good look from a public presentation standpoint. Rant over.
  • The NOPD is only as effective as the rest of the criminal justice system. And apparently the rest of the criminal justice system is broken. If people don’t believe that they’ll be held accountable for their crimes, then they’ll just continue to commit them. If you’re looking for the data showing or proving that there’s a gap between arrests and cases accepted or arrests and convictions, then join the party.
  • But wait, what about a crime czar? This was Council President Moreno’s idea. This crime czar could be the missing data link between the Council, the NOPD, and the D.A.’s office. The czar would amass and sort all the relevant data so there’s no mistake about who’s doing and not doing what. Yes, I know you may be asking: don’t they have staff who can do that?
  • Every council member appeared earnestly disturbed and concerned, as they should be. That shows they are feeling public pressure. They each had their own Q&A with Chief Ferguson, and they also did a good job of focusing on different aspects so not to overlap each other. Council member Morrell said we would see what a strong Council looked like. So far, we see what a coordinated one looks like. That strength will become evident if the Council finds an effective way to flex the limited muscle it has when it comes to helping the NOPD with crime. 
  1. Chief Ferguson wasn’t ready to divulge any major future crime fighting plans. His main message was: We’ve brought the horse to water. It’s the rest of the criminal justice system’s job to make it drink. When D.A. Jason Williams shows up at the Council today, it’ll be up to him to explain why there are so many horses back out here thirsty and roaming our streets.


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