NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans police are touting a successful Carnival season, with fewer arrests this year compared to last. But while we didn’t see the violence we saw last year, a criminologist said this is no time to let our guard down.
“I’m proud to stand before you and say we had a safe and successful Mardi Gras 2019,” said NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson as he addressed the media moments before he and other officers swept Bourbon Street, bringing Carnival 2019 to a close.
NOPD reports a total of 323 arrests between Feb. 22 and March 5 - a 21 percent decrease from the same time last year. Eighty-one of those arrests were for illegal gun possession. Last year, 54 gun arrests were made.
"That shows our officers’ and our partners’ dedication to identifying the right individuals that are out here doing criminal activity,” Ferguson said. "…We did have unfortunate, two unfortunate tragic incidents, mainly on the 400 block of Bourbon homicide, the double fatality on Esplanade.”
Compare that to eight people shot on Fat Tuesday alone last year, and you might think New Orleans has gotten a handle on violent crime.
"One Mardi Gras does not make a 20-year history of violence go away,” said criminologist Peter Scharf.
Scharf said it’s unwise to rush to generalizations.
"It’s really encouraging the way Mardi Gras is handled and the arrest trends and the number of guns confiscated and those types of indicators, but the reality is we don’t know exactly how the year’s going to turn out,” Scharf said, saying Carnival is too brief a time period to make that determination. "NOPD tells me we have 21 murders as of this date, March 6. 2019, compared to 40 last year.”
But he said the data doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Comparing this year to last year, it gives you the false impression that we’ve half the murder rate. Really, what happened is we had a blip last year,” he said.
Scharf said the city is now back on par with previous years’ averages, but that’s not to say we’re not headed in the right direction. Scharf said the success of this year’s Carnival season illustrates a discipline and organizational structure he finds encouraging for New Orleans’ future.
“We have to be patient,” he said. "We have to keep doing what seems to be working, applaud our success, definitely applaud this Mardi Gras, applaud the mayor, but then keep vigilant and really make sure we have sustainable gun violence reduction.”