CrimeTracker Report: The state of juvenile crime in New Orleans

CrimeTracker Report: The state of juvenile crime in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Shattered glass on Cleveland Avenue is painful reminder of Zelda Townsend’s last moments.

“I had to wash the blood off the street because I can’t stand to see my blood on that ground,” Elmo Vincent said. “That’s the last thing I could do for my cousin is wash her blood off."

According to NOPD, Townsend and her husband cornered a teen as he was trying to burglarize their car around 10 p.m. on May 8. Then, the teen pulled out a gun and started shooting, fatally wounding Townsend and striking her husband in the arm.

The next day, police arrested the alleged shooter, 17-year-old Emanuel Pipkins.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said this fatal encounter points to a larger issue facing the city.

“She should be considered family to us all because what happened to her could have happened to any one of us this year. Our juvenile crime problem is that bad,” Cannizzaro said.

NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson also reacted strongly.

“I’m disgusted. I’m upset and I’m angry,” Ferguson said.

It seemed Townsend’s murder was the tipping point for some who vowed to curb juvenile crime, with Mayor Latoya Cantrell echoing sentiments expressed by Ferguson and Cannizzaro.

“This is serious and they are brazen and they have no fear,” Cantrell said.

“There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight," Cannizzaro said. “We have seen the number of shootings, and the auto burglaries are still rampant in New Orleans.”

City leaders agree there must be a systematic approach to stopping it.

Cantrell said the city will soon begin aggressively enforcing curfew, arresting juveniles aged 16 years old or younger if they’re out after hours.

It’s something that hasn’t been a priority for years. In 2011, NOPD data shows police made more than 2,500 curfew arrests. Last year, the arrests dwindled to just 230.

“It allows for an early intervention with regard to the juvenile offender. We are in a position now where we cannot only put them into the court system, but we can also engage the parents,” Cannizzaro said.

The city said it has also partnered with Covenant House to address the issues, which is where those caught breaking curfew will be brought, according to Jim Kelly, the executive director of Covenant House.

“What’s going to happen is when they come across young people who aren’t in their neighborhood, and may look like if you leave them out here, they may get into trouble, those are the people they’ll bring to Covenant House,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the juveniles arrested for curfew violation will remain there until a parent or guardian picks them up.

“These are going to be kids who haven’t committed the crimes. Those out committing crimes will go to jail,” Kelly said, meaning the Youth Study Center, which houses New Orleans’ juvenile detention facilities.

Cannizzaro said he encourages judges to give juvenile offenders consequences for their actions, and that doesn’t always mean detention.

“The juveniles aren’t stupid. They realize if they get involved in the system and nothing happens to them, then they can go out and do it again because they don’t expect anything to happen a second or third time,” Cannizzaro said.

The increased focus on addressing juvenile crime comes as one young teen -- 13-year-old Lynell Reynolds -- awaits trial in Juvenile Court, after police said he shot two people in separate incidents and committed several other crimes, including armed robbery.

Among his charges, Reynolds is accused of shooting Kenya Esteen’s 16-year-old son in the leg.

“If he comes out right now, he’s guaranteed to take a life because it’s a pat on the hand,” Esteen said.

Another of his alleged victims, Darrelle, is paralyzed from the waist down and now lives in a wheelchair. His grandmother, Dorthy White is hoping for justice in court.

“He needs to be incarcerated because if they let him out he’s coming back again. He did a crime with a gun, and three days later, he came back and shot my grandson," White said. “I’m sorry but what about us?”

As an alternative to incarceration for some juveniles, the City Council added $214,000 to this year’s budget to fund Evening Reporting Centers, a court mandated program where juveniles would be provided homework help, meals and mental health services.

The city, though, has not released any information about the centers, telling FOX 8, “We are still finalizing the process."

However, a source within the criminal justice system, provided FOX 8 with the city’s draft report about the centers. According to the report, juveniles arrested for a crime of violence will not be eligible for the program and each center will only have the capacity for 15 juveniles at one time.

The youth will be required to attend the centers from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., according to the report, and anyone who misses two consecutive days without an excused absence will be reported to the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.

The report doesn’t state what would happen after that.

Again, it’s a draft report, which does not include where the centers will be or when they will be up and running. But, Cantrell said she believes they’re a necessary part of curbing juvenile crime.

“This engagement and resource center, which will be a court mandated center, shows that we are committed to working with our Juvenile Court Judges," she said. “It’s a partnership. It has to be, and we will do all that we can to make it happen.”

Cannizzaro’s proposed plan includes a push for the conclusion of the NOPD’s federal consent decree.

“I think to a large extent right now, the police are restricted in what they can and cannot do," Cannizzaro said. “The no-chase law has hampered their efforts to apprehend criminals who they see in the act of committing a crime. They jump in a car and flee, and the police are handcuffed and cannot pursue. I think that’s important.”

City leaders have called the situation dire and said change must come soon.

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