Compass' Direction

New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass III marks his first year in office Thursday, May 22 -- amid a roaring homicide rate. In addition, the force remains seriously understaffed. Even though NOPD is on target for a budgeted allocation of 1,685 officers by year's end, the department is still far short of the optimal 2,000-member force that Mayor Ray Nagin and District Attorney Eddie Jordan say is needed to effectively police the city.

Nagin gave his police chief a vote of confidence last week in his first State of the City address and vowed the spike in homicides will not derail his ambitious economic agenda. "[W]e must end the cycle of retaliation that fuels this dangerous killing machine," he said. "I have full faith and confidence in Chief Eddie Compass. He is the right man for the job." Nagin also announced $250,000 in signing bonuses to beef up recruiting efforts.

By the time the mayor gave his May 6 address, however, there were already 104 homicides in Orleans Parish in 2003. Criminologist Peter Scharf, director of the University of New Orleans Center for Society Law and Justice -- and a close friend of Compass -- says New Orleans is already on a deadly pace to become one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., based on per capita homicides. "We're about five times more dangerous than New York City," Scharf says.

The good news for Compass is that the UNO Center, the private New Orleans Police Foundation and the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) are redoubling efforts to assist the chief in "formalizing" his new crime-fighting strategy. "Chief Compass is making all the right moves," says Robert Stellingworth, the new executive director of the New Orleans Police Foundation Inc. and a retired career supervisor of the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. "He is saturating hot spots with increased patrols, working to find resources and additional overtime money for that extra effort, publicizing awareness of the problems, and calling for community involvement." A source familiar with Compass' plan says the effort will utilize elements of a successful model from Boston, in which cops extensively interview family and loved ones of murder victims in an effort to prevent retaliatory killings.

"We're really paying for the sins of the past," says MCC president Raphael Goyeneche. "Only 13 percent of all people arrested for homicide during a one-year period from 1999-2000 were convicted and sent to prison. What that means is 87 percent of those arrested defendants were right back on the streets. And when the system fails, the family exacts street violence. ...We are in a non-ending cycle."

Goyeneche and Scharf both say the police chief and the mayor need to keep emphasizing the systemic problems of crime in the city. "We need treatment facilities to break the demand side of the drug trade," Goyeneche says. Scharf agrees, noting that drug violence spikes upward when law enforcement removes heroin and cocaine from the streets, increasing the desperation of addicts. "There's a lot of moving parts to fighting crime," Scharf says. "And we at UNO are going to do all we can to help Chief Compass." -- Johnson

  The Bus Stops Here

Jefferson Parish Transit (JT), buffeted by higher-than-anticipated operating expenses, soaring insurance costs and declining revenues and ridership, will conduct public hearings this week on reductions in service and route changes on both banks of the Mississippi River.

The East Bank meeting begins at 7 p.m. Monday, May 12, at JT's operations and maintenance facility at 118 David Dr. The West Bank hearing begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at the administration office at 21 West Bank Expressway in Gretna.

"We would like our riders to come out," says JT spokesperson Colleen Fabacher. "Some routes may change Sunday service because of the cutbacks. We would like them to come and voice their opinions."

Pat Johnson, director of the transit authority, and Bill Townsend, interim chair of the Transit Advisory Board, are expected to detail the dilemmas facing the system. The authority has a total of 62 buses, equally divided between both banks of the river, to serve an average of 13,000 riders daily -- 8,000 on the East Bank and 5,000 on the West Bank. For more information, call the transit office at 364-3450. -- Johnson

  The Pill Bill

Women who want the Pill, the patch or the shot had better get on the horn. That's the message from state Sen. Paulette Irons (D-New Orleans), who is working to revive her Senate bill that would require health insurance plans covering prescription drugs to include prescription contraceptives. Irons delayed a full Senate vote on SB 958 last week when colleagues persuaded her to wait until the House -- which defeated a contraceptive-coverage bill two years ago -- voted on similar legislation.

The expected House measure never came through, and Irons predicted late last week that her bill would clear the Senate, as it's done in the past. She then plans to move it to the House. "The issue on contraceptive equity is winnable, but we have to pressure the House," Irons says.

The bill faces its toughest opposition from the business and insurance lobbies, who argue it would raise their costs significantly. It also has been criticized by the Catholic Church, which says mandating contraceptive coverage would violate the rights of Catholic employers whose faith prohibits contraceptives. Irons' bill contains a provision that would allow religious exemptions.

Planned Parenthood of Louisiana spokeswoman Christina Kucera says supporters plan to introduce new data supporting their claim that contraceptive coverage actually lowers insurance premiums. That's because, Kucera says, it's cheaper than the costs of sterilizations and abortions, which are covered on many premiums, and maternity and child care, which are covered on all. -- Harrist

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