Crime watchdog concerned about the actions of the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund

Crime watchdog concerned about the actions of the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - “I think they may be thinking more about the offender as a victim and not about the victims of crime in this community,” said Metropolitan Crime Commission head Rafael Goyeneche.

Goyeneche said knowing more about the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund doesn’t make him any more comfortable with what they’re doing.

“Unless or until they begin to exclude certain offenders for free bail consideration, I’m going to continue to have reservations about what they’re doing,” Goyeneche said.

“It’s the DA’s job to determine whether the person is guilty or innocent. Bond is not a punishment. We are allowing them to get back home and get back to work. We do that in a way that allows them to do what without risking public safety,” said Freedom Fund member Jennifer Schnidman.

Members Schnidman and Chris Laibe spoke in their first television interview to FOX 8 about why they’re bonding suspected criminals out of jail.

“We are able to help intervene and get individuals that the judge has deemed not a threat to public safety back to their families and back to their communities while they await whether the DA will move forward,” Schnidman said.

Schnidman bonded Lawrence Howard out of jail back in May. Police arrested Howard on a slew of charges, including home invasion, violating a protective order and theft.

A Magistrate Commissioner set his bond at $250.

“We’re looking at the judge making a determination, and when they set a bond that is $5,000 or lower, that’s an indication that they are not a threat to public safety,” Schnidman said.

“When you start to bond out violent felony offenders and drug distributors, I think you’re crossing the line and creating a public safety issue,” Goyeneche said.

A crime watchdog raises concern over actions of the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund
A crime watchdog raises concern over actions of the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund

After the Freedom Fund bonded Howard out of jail, he never returned to court. According to court documents, Howard didn’t appear for this next three hearings. Schnidman, though, said the organization’s own data shows the majority of people the Freedom Fund bonds out return to court.

“We have an appearance rate of 92 percent show up on their own. All we do is simply contact a family or friend with a text reminder of their court date and they don’t have any money on the line,” Schnidman said.

“The only way to verify the accuracy of the statistics that they are providing is for them to disclose the people they’ve posted bail for,” Goyeneche said.

Schnidman says they’re getting names of who needs bail money from the Public Defender’s Office.

“We are given names from the Public Defender’s Office. Given that 87 percent of the individuals arrested in New Orleans are represented by public defenders,” Schnidman said.

“No one’s thinking about the victims and witnesses and the general public," Goyeneche said. "That’s certainly not what the Public Defender’s Office is charged with doing. So if this organization is going to facilitate the release of low-level offenders, there are ample numbers of low-level, non-violent felony offenders that don’t have extensive criminal backgrounds, and they probably don’t have enough money to bond them out,” Goyeneche said.

While a law enforcement source tells FOX 8 the Freedom Fund has already bonded out more than 300 suspected criminals, Schnidman said the number is closer 200. Schnidman and Laibe insist that bonding people out of jail will make the community safer.

“If you’re a low risk to the community and you don’t have the money, you’re going to stay in jail, and that destabilizes those people who probably have jobs and they are members of the community. That causes them to lose their job, lose their housing, and it breaks up the family. All of those things are extremely destabilizing, and we believe those things lead, longer term, to more crime,” Laibe said.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.