Getting rid of Eddie Jordan as district attorney of New Orleans will have the same effect on the local criminal justice system that closing the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet will have on local hurricane protection: It will make everyone feel safer, but it's not a silver bullet.
On both fronts, real safety will take years and a lot more changes.
Real hurricane protection will require better engineering, design and construction of floodwalls and levees; massive rebuilding of coastal wetlands; floodgates at the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain; shoring up barrier islands; and a thoroughly integrated set of internal levees, canals and pumps.
Real protection from crime will require big changes at NOPD, including a fully functional crime lab, better deployment of cops, better reporting (and independent auditing) of crime stats, better training and mentoring of young cops and better retention of veterans. On top of that, we need better leadership at City Hall and in public education, and eternal vigilance in the neighborhoods.
All that will take time -- and money.
Seems like a lot, doesn't it? It is a tall order, but guess what -- closing the MR-GO and getting rid of Jordan are still pretty good starts. The key is not to think we've solved the problem on either front by taking one giant step. Flood protection and crime prevention are long journeys that will require many, many steps large and small.
So why start with Jordan when the whole system is broken?
The embattled DA made that point last week when he was called on the carpet by the City Council. He said he was being scapegoated for a system that has been broken for decades. City Council member Shelley Midura, who reiterated her earlier call for Jordan to resign, replied that Jordan's mistakes "have stood out in that broken system."
They're both right.
Jordan is right in saying that everyone is focusing only on him when, in fact, there are major problems at NOPD. His criticism that police don't hand in timely or well-written crime reports is not new. His predecessor had the same gripe. He also points to witnesses' penchant for either disappearing or clamming up right before trial.
Obviously New Orleans has a significant problem protecting witnesses to violent crimes. They and their families are easy targets for violent drug rings. Add to that the decades of mistrust that poor, mostly black citizens feel toward NOPD and it's not so hard to imagine the difficulties that cops as well as prosecutors face trying to bring murderers and drug dealers to justice.
On the other hand, Jordan has failed at that task in a colossal way. He has dismissed murder charges against some of the city's most violent criminals with a shrug, trotting out the same tired excuses time and again. Worse, Jordan has consistently and boneheadedly refused sincere offers of assistance from local, state and federal agencies. For example, it took a direct question from the Attorney General of the United States at a meeting of criminal justice leaders to get Jordan to agree to accept the results of drug testing kits as evidence. At the time, he was the only DA in America who refused to do so. Why? Because Jordan actually thinks he knows what he's doing, when clearly he does not.
And that's why everyone is focusing on him: He is utterly incompetent -- and he doesn't even realize that he's in way over his head.
That's the sad part, not just for Jordan but also for New Orleans. When he looks citizens in the eye and tells them he's got things under control, he actually believes it.
It reminds me of something I learned from an old political ward heeler years ago: "To succeed in this game," he said, "you gotta know what you know, and you gotta know what you don't know."
Eddie Jordan's problem is that "he don't know what he don't know."
And for that, he's gotta go.
Meanwhile, the rest of us need to remember that there are no silver bullets. Getting rid of Jordan is a good start, but we have a long, long way to go before we truly make our streets safe.