Last night, hundreds of people attended a town hall meeting in Algiers to discuss the crime situation. In recent weeks, Algiers has been the scene of violent crimes such as rape, assault, armed robbery, car-jacking and murder. On the night of January 7, Mrs. Clint Coleman was assaulted walking back to her house after taking the Algiers Ferry. She was brutally attacked and suffered significant injury, yet it took police officers more than 80 minutes to respond. NOPD officers later confided to Mr. and Mrs. Coleman that the vast majority of officers normally assigned to Algiers were in the French Quarter monitoring crowds after the Saints-Lions playoff game.
It is clear the NOPD is understaffed. While NOPD officials claim there are approximately 1,300 officers currently on the force, a source within the department says there are only 1,200 officers. On Wednesday morning, when Mr. Ainsworth was killed in Algiers, this department source claims that only five officers were working in the district. With such a depleted staffing level, it is no surprise that the perpetrator of this crime escaped.
More of a police presence would not solve the problem, but it would help. Until more officers are recruited, the Military Police unit of the Louisiana National Guard should be deployed in New Orleans. The officers can patrol certain areas, handle office duties, freeing up NOPD officers to concentrate on high crime areas and those districts, such as Algiers, which are shorthanded.
Another key component of the city’s crime problem is the revolving door criminal justice system. Judges are allowing violent criminals to evade prison and return to the streets of New Orleans.
The problem is so acute that Mayor Landrieu and NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas requested that criminal court judges set a higher bail for defendants charged with possessing illegal weapons. On Wednesday, the Mayor recommended a minimum bail of $30,000 for such offenses, along with electronic monitoring. These measures have worked to reduce crime in St. Louis and other cities across the country. Unfortunately, these recommendations were promptly ignored by Magistrate Court Judge Gerard Hansen. On Thursday, he set bail at only $25,000 for career criminal Thomas Riles, a multiple offender who was arrested for illegal use of a weapon. So, for a more serious crime than possession of illegal weapons, Judge Hansen set a lower bail than recommended by the Mayor and Police Chief.
Along with charges of illegal use of a weapon, Riles was charged with criminal damage to property. His history includes drug charges for possessing crack cocaine and Ecstasy violating his probation. He obviously learned no lessons from his experience in the criminal justice system and returned to his law breaking. With Hansen’s lenient bail, Riles will surely be back on the streets posing a threat to law abiding citizens. When asked about his decision in the Riles case, Hansen said “I call each case individually as I see them. It is what it is.”
What a cavalier attitude from a judge! What “it is” stinks and contributes to the revolving door criminal justice system. Violent thugs are continually arrested and almost immediately they are back on the streets to commit more crime.
To combat the criminals in this struggle for the future of the city, New Orleans needs more law enforcement personnel, more prison space and law and order judges who will show compassion for the victims and not mercy toward the criminals who are terrorizing the city.
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Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at www.ringsidepolitics.com. E-mail him at [email protected].