Battling for New Orleans: City leaders look to Baltimore for answers to violent crime plague

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 11:50 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As New Orleans City Council member Helena Moreno searched for solutions, it was Baltimore’s Police Chief who grabbed her attention.

Baltimore Police Chief Michael Harrison is the former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department. He was making national headlines about a year ago.

“Initially, the work that he was doing around adding professionals around the Baltimore police department made national news,” says Moreno.

Just as New Orleans was dealing with a depleted police force, Baltimore was losing officers too.

“What he ended up doing was, he started hiring more professionals to fill duties that a commissioned officer didn’t have to do. So, civilians writing police reports for non-violent offenses, doing a lot of paperwork type of duties and looking at that, I’m like well what can we do here,” says Moreno.

New Orleans Council members conducted a study and figured out that a civilian police worker could supplement about 30 percent of an NOPD officer’s workload.

“What we were looking for is action,” says Moreno.

So, back in August of last year, the council introduced the idea and passed the civilian policing ordinance.

“But unfortunately, it just really has not been a top priority. Now, with the Interim Police Chief Woodfork, she’s telling me it’s a priority,” says Moreno.

Moreno says the council is working with the NOPD and civil service to break the barriers and begin hiring civilians.


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But she and the other Council Members wanted to know what else they could learn from Baltimore.

“We took a trip to Washington D.C., myself and Leslie Harris, to really sit down with the Chief and talk about all different types of initiatives,” says Moreno.

There, they learned crime plagues Baltimore in the same way it does here.

“A lot of violence that we see is essentially a tennis match, back and forth, back and forth,” says T. J. Smith

T. J. Smith, a former Commander of the Baltimore Police Department and now the host of the podcast, ‘2BMORE’, explains how the city has experienced a severe uptick in murder since 2015.

“That year, Baltimore’s killings skyrocketed with 333 murders and that sustained level of violence has pretty much been in tact since then,” says Smith.

Even with about 200 thousand fewer people in New Orleans, 280 people were killed last year. That’s a 131 percent increase since 2019, according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Back in Baltimore, Smith also points to the alarming number of shootings.

“Just an enormous amount of non-fatal shootings, an average of about 700 non-fatal shootings per year as well,” says Smith

New Orleans had 618 people shot last year.

In Baltimore, Council members learned Chief Harrison addressed the high crime there with a violence interruption model.

It’s a model used to address violent crime in 10 of the city’s most notorious neighborhoods.

“What he did was a pilot for one year. In each of these areas, he put five or six, what we call ‘violence interrupters’ in each of these areas,” says Moreno.

The violence interrupters, interrupt crime and stop the cycle by addressing the victims as well as the criminals. Smith says it’s also about having programs to get people out of the criminal lifestyle.

“Really it becomes an omni presence and a force multiplier where you have that many more people from different arms of government involved in trying to change the entire community you’re trying to impact,” says Smith.

The results after one year were encouraging.

“Last year, 2022, an area that’s about 2 square miles averages about 50 plus murders per year over the last eight years, has about 30 murders last year, so something occurred,” says Smith.

Moreno hopes to try the same violence interruption model in New Orleans, but there’s a catch.

“Unfortunately, some of the figures that I’ve seen on what a really robust intervention model looks like is anywhere from 25 to 50 million dollars a year. In my opinion, I think it’s absolutely worthwhile because something has to break the cycle,” says Moreno.

Moreno says the council’s already working with the health department and UMC to build a program model, but she knows there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

“How do you really scale it up? Then, how are you really identifying the most at risk individuals, those that are going to be a victim or a perpetrator of crime. Then, you interrupt the cycle.”

Still, she’s confident it will come together.

“We are going to build it, and in fact, there’s been a directive from the City Council, unanimously approved by the City Council, that the Health Department will create this violence interruption model,” says Moreno.

“I think it’s a smart thing, but I think it involves a lot of commitment and the ability to really be focused on it,” says Smith.

“While not everything in Baltimore is working, there are certain things that you have, and I don’t mind stealing good ideas from other people,” says Moreno.

An idea she believes will soon become a reality in the fight against violence as so many continue battling for New Orleans.

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