Last week's cover story, "The Landrieu Legacy on Crime" — an analysis of crime statistics during Mayor Mitch Landrieu's two terms of office, written by a locally based, nationally noted crime analyst — drew more attention than many of our other recent cover stories. Landrieu himself asked for space to respond about his record, which we were happy to offer him (see opposite page).
Some objected (without reading the story, it seemed) to the term "legacy," as if that neutral word carried necessarily positive connotations about Landrieu's time in office. Others (including the mayor in his response) pointed out that New Orleans' long history of crime preceded Landrieu by decades, and that many of our city's chronic ills — poverty, inequality, lack of access to education and social services — also affect crime rates.
We agree, but our objective was to measure Landrieu's efficacy in playing the hand he was dealt when he took office. That's why the story by crime analyst Jeff Asher of NOLA Crime News stuck to verifiable numbers, including shootings, murders, NOLA For Life's initial successes and the number of New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers and recruits from 2006 to this year. Numbers have no political bias.
By any account, and for a variety of reasons, violent crime is on the uptick compared to three years ago as Landrieu prepares to leave office next May. As of July 5, there had been 717 people shot in New Orleans over the previous 365 days, with 204 people murdered. New Orleans is not alone in this; killings have spiked in many American cities over the last 18 months. While Chicago often is mentioned as a particularly dangerous city, New Orleans' per capita murder rate is actually higher than Chicago's.
Last week, one day before his twice-delayed State of the City address, Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison, flanked by several City Council members, announced a proposed pay raise and new job classification system for NOPD officers. Though final details will need to be approved by the City Council and the Civil Service Commission, the proposal includes a 10 percent pay hike for entry-level officers and "still larger raises" for sergeants and lieutenants. Detectives, according to information provided by the city, also would see "better compensation." According to the administration, this all can be accomplished, at least initially, by selling off some city assets — and not raising taxes. We look forward to all the details.
Landrieu has taken a lot of flak locally from those who oppose the removal of Confederate monuments. He's also received a good deal of positive national press for the same issue. More important, though, is his record on the nitty-gritty issues: balancing the municipal budget after the fiscal disaster of the Ray Nagin years, helping reform the NOPD — and yes, our city's violent crime rate. Those will be his real legacies.
"No one is happy with where we are on reducing the level of violence in this city, especially me," Landrieu wrote in his letter responding to our cover story. "Despite our successes, there is no doubt crime remains this community's biggest challenge." On that, we all wholeheartedly agree with the mayor.