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Metropolitan Crime Commission issues report on St. Tammany criminal justice system

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MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) -

Across Lake Pontchartrain, St. Tammany Parish enjoys more than just towering pine trees. A new report gives the parish’s criminal justice system high marks.

"The good news in St. Tammany Parish is that the criminal justice system is in pretty good shape,” said Rafael Goyeneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

He released the assessment which covers years 2013 and 2014 before North Shore business leaders and law enforcement officials.

The report said in 2013 there were 10,505 arrests in the parish according to data from the sheriff’s office and the Slidell and Covington Police Departments. In 2014, the number was only slightly higher at 10,644.

And unlike nearby Orleans Parish violent crimes are rare in St. Tammany.

"The felony crime in St. Tammany Parish is the non-violent felony crime which New Orleans would die to have,” said Goyeneche.

He said drugs are a major driver for felony arrests.

"Over two-thirds of the arrests for felonies were for drugs and for property,” said Goyeneche.

And the percentage of felony arrests resulting in felony convictions surpasses the national average.

"Of the cases that go through the felony arrests to felony conviction which is the benchmark of how effectively police and prosecutors are working together, nationally, you know, the national average is 54-percent of the felony arrests resulting in a felony conviction, in St. Tammany Parish it is 63-percent, so that's higher than the national average,” he said.

The data covers years when former DA Walter Reed and former Sheriff Jack Strain were in office.

"Sixty-percent of these arrests were made by the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office and another 20-percent were made by the Slidell Police Department when I was Chief of Police there. To improve we must continue to work together,” said new Sheriff Randy Smith.

Still the MCC recommended police and prosecutors reduce the time it takes to get police reports to the D.A.’s office and the time it takes prosecutors to screen cases.

"We see that it's taking about 28 days for the reports to get into the D.A.'s office and then 19 days for prosecutors to make a decision…Those delays are costing money, creating, you know additional over-crowding problems in the jail,” said Goyeneche.

D.A. Warren Montgomery said they are already taking steps to reduce the time it takes to screen cases and determine whether there will be prosecution.

“Instead of one person we have four or five lawyers, now we have these investigators from the sheriff's office, from the Slidell PD,” he told the gathering.

Goyeneche also recommends increased access to the Diversion Program which gives low-level, non-violent offenders a second chance if they complete the program.

"We have never excluded someone purely on the basis that they did not have funds,” said D.A. Montgomery.

And N.O. D.A. Leon Cannizzaro told his law enforcement neighbors from the other side of the lake that they cannot go wrong by increasing access to the Diversion Program which gives low-level offender a second chance.

"Our recidivism rate for people who successfully complete that program is less than five-percent, less than five-percent of the people come back into the justice system,” said Cannizzaro.

The report did not include information from Washington Parish which also is under the jurisdiction of the St. Tammany D.A.’s Office.

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