Broad-based coalition hopes to fight crime, service youth in New Orleans

Published: Jul. 12, 2022 at 6:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The public outcry over violent crime has brought together a broad coalition of people to tackle the problem. They said Tuesday (July 12) they hope to help the New Orleans Police Department and also address the root causes of the city’s relentless crime.

Dawn Hebert, President of The East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, is part of the coalition.

“Residents in New Orleans are afraid to drive, park in their driveways, drive along I-10,” said Hebert.

Now nearly 80 organizations -- plus individuals and more than 100 companies -- have banded together in hopes of being part of the solution. They are calling themselves the NOLA Coalition.

“Just look behind us,” said New Orleans NAACP president Ronald Coleman. “We’re united. Once we’re united, there’s nothing we cannot do in this city.”

Michael Hecht, president and CEO of regional economic development organization GNO Inc., said, “This is so different. Not because of the ideas, but because of the individuals and the organizations involved. We have everybody from New Orleans East to Lakeview to Uptown and everybody in between -- big, small, black, white.”

The coalition unveiled a two-pronged plan. The first part deals with helping the NOPD address its manpower problems and holding the criminal justice system accountable. The second part of the plan is a commitment to raise $15 million for youth services.

Melanie Talia, CEO of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, said, “Part of our recruiting process has got to be removal of systemic barriers to the hiring process. NOPD needs to be more competitive in both the public and private sector. Two ways to do that are to enhance the compensation structure and address the issues that were raised in the morale survey.”

To expand the city’s youth services, the group hopes to distribute $5 million per year for three years. Hecht said he is confident the funds can be raised.

“It’s a big number, but on a national scale it really is not,” Hecht said. “Talking about raising $5 million a year from national sources is really rounding errors for those large national organizations and philanthropic groups,” said Hecht.

According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the NOPD has responded to 159 homicides so far this year, a 56 percent increase from the year before. Carjackings and robberies also are occurring at an increased rate and police say juveniles often are involved as either the victims or perpetrators.

Retired Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson said it’s important “to recognize that we’re dealing with children.”

“Children, of course, misbehave, they do bad things,” Johnson said. “Yet, we can correct behavior. We can, if we get ourselves situated.”

In partnership with the Baptist Community Ministries, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana has already distributed $500,000 to nearly 40 local non-profits. Some teens like Debran Frith already know the value of community programs.

“My community, what they poured into me, so I want to thank you all for investing in my future and the future of my peers,” he said.

For decades, there have been calls for the local criminal justice system to work more cohesively in this city.

“Those are definitely ongoing conversations and, let’s be honest, not every conversation is going to go well,” said Talia. “We might take two steps forward and two steps back but that’s not a reason to not have those conversations.”

Johnson said he is optimistic.

“Absolutely, this is doable, and we’ve never done this,” he said. “All of the instances when we’ve been right here in this same situation and position before, what did we do? We focused on criminal justice. That’s always what we’ve done, but we’ve never really focused on children.”

Residents like Desha Greely of the Group New Orleans East Matters is hopeful, too.

“We know that without this, New Orleans will not move the needle,” she said.

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