‘Excuse,’ ‘cop out;’ New Orleans criminal justice leaders react to Mayor Cantrell’s claims on national TV

Large police presence on Viola St. in the Plum Orchard neighborhood of New Orleans East.
Large police presence on Viola St. in the Plum Orchard neighborhood of New Orleans East.(WVUE FOX 8)
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 5:40 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Members of New Orleans’ criminal justice community are responding to Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s statements made on national television about the city’s crime fight.

Cantrell claimed New Orleans’ murder rate and police officer attrition were on the “decline” and expressed little concern Sunday (Jan. 22) about the effort to trigger a recall election against her, during a nationally televised interview on “Face The Nation.”

Cantrell appeared on the CBS show hosted by Margaret Brennan as part of a panel with fellow mayors from Miami, Atlanta and Mesa, Ariz. The guests were in Washington DC for last week’s United States Conference of Mayors that concluded Friday.

Cantrell became the focus of Brennan’s questions for about 3 1/2 minutes of the 12-minute segment.

Q: New Orleans has the highest per-capita murder rate of any major city. Why?

Cantrell: “Why, is because, one, dealing with COVID-19, violence, everyone has guns, the ability or the lack of the ability to resolve a conflict without reaching and pulling a gun. Also, as it relates to accountability. You know, low-lining offenses, when they don’t get bail or they’re not restrained, then we’re just seeing how these crimes escalate. People need to be held accountable, across the board. And we’re seeing, um, uh, results, I would say. We’re moving in the right direction. But I tell you, we definitely need to hold people accountable. You can’t fight crime just focusing on police. It’s about a system – a criminal justice system. It’s about the DA, your judges and it’s about building in accountability. Everybody needs to be held accountable. And that’s how we’re focusing on it, holistic approach, in the City of New Orleans. Definitely, uh, seeing a decline. Moving in the right direction.”

Rafael Goeyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission says blaming the violent crime wave on COVID-19 and guns is an “excuse,” and a “cop-out.”

“That’s why there is only a 31% approval rating given to the mayor last fall,” said Goyeneche.

Last year saw New Orleans’ highest murder count since 1996 and six officers leaving for every one who joined NOPD.

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Crime watchdogs say the city is playing with a woeful lack of manpower.

“We lost 167 officers last year and we’re down another eight since the first of the year,” said Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO).

Mayor Cantrell said there’s plenty of blame to go around, pointing at the rotating door of the city’s criminal justice system.

“When they don’t get bail or they’re not restrained, we’re just seeing how these crimes escalate,” said Cantrell.

“The situation we’re in right now is a direct reflection of her failed leadership,” said Goyeneche.

A local bail bondsman who also owns an electronic monitoring company, says the problem isn’t just low bonds approved by judges, but in many cases, arrests are never made.

“If fewer people in jail means less crime, then close the jail. We would have less crime,” said Matt Dennis, with the Assured Supervision Accountability Program.

Dennis says overall, arrests are only a small percentage of what they used to be due to fewer officers, and many drug offenses are now being treated as misdemeanors.

“People get arrested and they’re given a summons,” said Dennis.

Though jail population is down, Dennis says the number of people who are assigned electronic monitors has tripled, and on a positive note, he says police are being more proactive when it comes to checking defendant GPS records when a crime is committed.

Others point out that the city appears to be making strides when it comes to proactive policing and the attrition rate has slowed slightly, but they say we need to double police academy classes to build back the force.

We reached out to the mayor’s office for comment on this story, but have not heard back.

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