on February 06, 2015 at 8:14 PM, updated February 07, 2015 at 12:54 PM
New Orleans last year saw double-digit percentage increases in reports of virtually every major crime category except murder, according to annual year-end statistics released by the NOPD late Friday.
The biggest jumps were seen in the number of reported rapes and armed robberies, which shot up 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively, over the totals reported in 2013. Reports of assaults (27 percent) and auto thefts (22 percent) also exceeded the previous year’s counts by more than 20 percent.
Simple robberies (14 percent) and thefts (12 percent) also were up. Only burglaries (up 8 percent) and murders (down 4 percent) failed to jump by at least 10 percent over 2013, among the eight major Uniform Crime Report statistical categories reported by the department to the FBI.
Reported violent crimes against persons in New Orleans climbed by 27.15 percent over the previous year, and property crimes were up 12.78 percent. Overall, the city was left with the black eye of a 15.22 percent increase in “total index crimes” comprised by the eight categories.
“I don’t think this is going to be shocking to the general public,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission. “The public here has been hearing for months about the acute shortage of police manpower in the city. The rise in the reported crime, I think, is indicative that the criminal element also recognizes the weakness of the police department in its present state.”
The NOPD did not release the statistics until 5:57 p.m., after most city offices had closed for the week. An NOPD press release accompanying the bleak numbers quoted Superintendent Michael Harrison highlighting that murders had declined for the third consecutive year, falling from 156 in 2013 to 150 last year.
“After three consecutive years of murder reduction, we know our focus on enforcement and prevention with the city’s compressive NOLA for Life plan is working,” Harrison said in the statement.
Later Friday night, a press secretary issued a statement from Mayor Mitch Landrieu that said, “While I am pleased to see murder down for a third consecutive year to a 43-year historic low, we are frustrated by an increase in some other crimes.
“Public safety is our top priority, and we continue to invest in prevention and increase the size of the NOPD? to ensure every neighborhood in this great city is a safe and prosperous place to live, work, visit and raise a family.”
But as Goyeneche pointed out, 156 murders among 17,490 reported UCR crimes amounts to less than 1 percent of the crime the city’s residents and tourists experienced in 2014.
“Murder has always been a barometer, historically,” Goyeneche said. “But I think the city’s residents have become more sophisticated about how they view crime statistics. They know it’s the other categories of crime that most people would experience.”
City councilwoman Susan Guidry acknowledged constituents’ growing unease with New Orleans’ crime rate. But she said she also wondered whether part of the reported crime increases was the result of more accurate reporting of crimes by the NOPD, following increased scrutiny from federal consent decree monitors and the city’s Inspector General.
“With the IG’s reports and the (consent decree), I thought there might be more correct reporting of crimes,” Guidry said. “But otherwise, we all feel there has been a spike in violent crime.”
The NOPD has seen its ranks shrink nearly 30 percent over the last five years, down from the 1,600 commissioned officers Landrieu has said the city needs to 1,156 last month. Police unions have blamed inadequate pay raises and a crippling hiring freeze Landrieu imposed early in his first term while trying to balance the city’s budget. New recruitment efforts began in 2013 but have not been able to outpace recent attrition.
Harrison recently reassigned 25 officers from administrative and security duties to patrol assignments and pleaded for former officers in good standing to rejoin the department’s Reserve Division, though the work is unpaid. Harrison has 58 new recruits currently in academy training, and has the backing of the mayor in his push to eliminate a college education requirement that he says is unwisely reducing the pool of new applicants to the detriment of the recruitment push.
“We’re throwing everything at it we can,” Guidry said of the manpower efforts.
Goyeneche said he thinks the public recognizes the bind the NOPD finds itself in, and the “political decision” that got the force there. That doesn’t make the increasing crime danger in the city any more palatable, for citizens, tourists or police.
“Is it disappointing? Yes,” he said of the year-end figures. “But probably no group is more disappointed than the New Orleans Police Department itself. And there is no doubt in my mind that they are doing the best they can, with the resources they have. They just need more.”
Staff writer Andy Grimm contributed to this report.