DA touts conviction rates, acknowledges recent violence in speech

In a community that has suffered horrific violence in recent days, the city's district attorney took the stage to give his take on the city's criminal justice system.

"I am proud to report to you and all the citizens of New Orleans that the criminal justice system that we have built together is strong. It is a full time criminal justice system," said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro delivered his State of the Criminal Justice System address before dozens at the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in the city's Lower Ninth Ward. And what happened recently in the neighborhood was not lost on the district attorney. A drive-by shooting left two people dead and five injured, including two young brothers. Family members said the one of the boys lost his eyesight because of the shooting.

"We should sear the images of those young children on Burgundy Street into our minds as a stark reminder that our work, is not over until every, and I do mean every child in New Orleans can play safely in front of his or her home without threat of gunfire," Cannizzaro said to applause.

The gun violence that has gripped the city for years, aside, Cannizzaro touted increased felony conviction rates and he said his office continues to bring formal charges against violent crime suspects in a timely fashion to prevent the suspects from being let out of jail on a technicality.

"I have listened to jail calls where mothers of inmates will chastise their children and remind them that this D-A's office don't play around. Unfortunately, this message is either missed or ignored by some, so our work is not finished," said Cannizzaro.

He promises fairness in prosecution. He is working to create a Conviction Integrity Unit that will involve members of the Innocence Project of New Orleans.

"And, I want to be real clear, my district attorney's office will not tolerate or shelter a prosecutor who cheats," said Cannizzaro.

In the audience listening to Cannizzaro's speech was the new interim Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department.

"I just want to keep the very good working relationship that we have with the police department, I think we have made progress in the last five and a half years," said Cannizzaro.

"Mr. Cannizzaro and I will be sitting down in the very near future and I will be open for any of his ideas to improve the relationship that he and chief Serpas already had, they had a wonderful relationship and I look to build upon that to make it as best as it could possibly be," said Interim NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison.

The mayor will begin crafting his proposed budget for 2015 and the DA says he will be asking for at least $1 million more in funding for his office.

"I think our discussion with the city was that we're going to need about an additional $1,090,000 just to break even to keep everything sort of up to par with this particular year for next year - that's what we're looking for from the city," said Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro also touted big gains in the number of offenders graduating from his office's Diversion Program. He also said his office is providing support to more than 10 times the number of victims and witnesses that were assisted by his predecessors.

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