NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Law-enforcement officials in St. Tammany have just signed a new agreement which many hope will lead to continued improvements in the parish’s crime rate. That agreement calls for setting new priorities to try and speed decisions on whether to prosecute criminal suspects.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission released its new report on crime in the parish Wednesday (Nov. 14).
“The good news is New Orleans has come along way, and St. Tammany is setting a standard beyond the national average in conviction rate,” said MCC Director Rafael Goyaneche.
The commission’s report for the Northshore Business Council measures the efficiency of the St. Tammany criminal justice system.
For example, in 2014 there were 2,747 felony arrests. That number dropped in 2016 to 2,456, but it rose again last year to 2,581.
“I think you’re seeing the sheriff’s office re-focused under new leader ship,” said Goyeneche.
But there have been growing pains. Goyeneche said the length of time to reach decisions on whether to prosecute is problematic. In 2014 it took 48 days, in 2016 it took 69 days and last year that number was reduced to 57.
“That decision needs to be made in 60 days. If not, the offender is released free of bond,” said Goyeneche.
The DA and the sheriff signed a new agreement to prioritize those arrested differently to make sure complete police reports are provided in a more timely manner.
“We want to get the entire file to the DA before screening,” said St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith.
But the DA cautions against a rush to judgment
“Everybody’s entitled to a speedy trial and a fair trial, but if you compress too much, it’s tricky. You must have a fair trial,” said St Tammany/Washington parish District Attorney Warren Montgomery.
The report comes out as the parish experiences money problems, and if there’s room for improvement, the parish president has an idea. Pat Brister said the goal of speeding up arrestee processing time could lower jail populations and help the parish meet budget.
“Holding prisoners before trial, that would help us if improved,” said Brister.
She says one of the lowest crime rates in the state should help make St. Tammany more appealing to businesses looking to relocate from the North Shore.
The St. Tammany coroner’s office reports the homicide rate in St. Tammany is down from last year. So far this year there have been nine - that’s half what the number was last year at this time.