Loyola crime symposium part 1: Chief Serpas and Dr. Karen DeSalvo



Loyola University is hosting an all-day symposium today focusing on "community-based" solutions to murder and violence, in particular in New Orleans, which, as we're all well aware, has the country's highest murder rate.

First up today was New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who made no attempt to glaze over the problem. As of this morning, Serpas said, there have been 160 murders in the city this year.

“We’ll be around 199, 200 by the end of the year, same as last year," he said, or a rate of more than 50 murders per 100,000 population, again, same as last year. Beyond the numbers, however, the city is fairly typical.

“One of the things we’ve put a lot of work into recently is recognizing that, in fact, the way murder transacts in New Orleans is not unusual … but for the numbers,” Serpas said.

(More after the jump)

That means that in 75 percent of the cases, those murders were committed “by an intimate, an associate, a family member or an acquaintance," of the victim, Serpas said.

And, he added, police are often unable to find witnesses willing to testify (despite a significant increase in overall crime reporting, via CrimeStoppers). This too tracks a national pattern, shown in decreasing clearance-by-arrest. Lack of witnesses and, Serpas added, a high number of minor conflict murders with no clear motive have been factors in lower clearance-by-arrest rates, from 70 to 75 percent several decades ago to 50-60 percent now, Serpas said.

All of which brought him to NOPD's new, community-based tactics, most recently a meeting between city and criminal justice officials and 40 young men “who we believe are involved in gang or group behavior that is dangerous to you, dangerous to the community,” Serpas said.

In a frank discussion, officials first pointed the men to available social services, including employment placement, then offered a warning.

“Whichever one of those groups is involved in the next violent act will understand how powerful local police, federal police, local prosecutors, federal prosecutors can be," Serpas said. “There was no finger-pointing no preaching. There was a simple message that if you do not bring this message back” to their associates, they will feel "the full force of the law."

Later, City Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo discussed the city's NOLA for Life plan and the role of public health agencies in crime reduction.

“Though there are many public health challenges, one that continually bubbles to the top is violence and murder," she said.

Apart from the immediate effects of such crime, she said, living in a violent neighborhood can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. She showed a map of the city, with deep red spots indicating high-crime areas.

“In New Orleans for the last few years, where we have seen the clusters of death are Central City, the Seventh ward, St. Roch and New Orleans East," she said. “If you live in a dark red spot, you’re going to die about 25 years earlier than if you live in one of those [non-shaded] spots there by [City Park].”

She said the city's health department has been working with public schools to develop trauma counseling services.

“What we are uncovering in the schools is terrifying," she said. “A really high percentage of kids are in need of a lot of support.”

Famous person David Kennedy is up at 1:45. Back later this afternoon with a report on that.

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