Crime Tracker investigation: A breakdown on shootings in New Orleans

Updated: Jul. 17, 2014 at 9:58 PM CDT
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The number of people murdered in New Orleans trends downward for the first half of 2014.

As of July 17, the NOPD reports 74 murders compared to 84 for the same time frame last year.

What you'll rarely hear are the non-fatal shooting statistics, which involve three times as many victims.

Just last week, a 3-year-old girl and two teenage boys were shot and wounded in the 1300 block of South Salcedo. It was a familiar drill for NOPD officers. Up went the crime scene tape and down went cones marking more than 20 spent shell casings.

It was another scar on a city already badly wounded.

This week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu talked about visiting 3-year-old Nat Tasha Thompson in the hospital.

"When you visit a 3-year-old in the hospital that got shot in the stomach and look at her and see the wonder in her eyes about why am I here and how did this happen, you realize we shouldn't have to live like this," he said.

That triple shooting was also a familiar drill for the neighborhood.

So far this year, seven people have been gunned down in practically the same location in the 1300 block of South Salcedo. Roughly 25 percent of all of the non-fatal shootings in the 6th District have happened there. But that's just one snapshot of shootings to date in the city.

Unlike murder, which is easy to track by the numbers made public in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, shootings are not. FOX 8 requested the records from the NOPD and found that between January 1 and July 5 of this year, 174 shooting incidents produced 219 victims who survived. That's five more victims than the same time period last year.

"That tells me that we still have a lot of work to do," said New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas. "There's a very small group of people who choose to hold the rest of us hostage."

Serpas says it's not enough for the murder count to be down more than 10 percent for the first half of the year. When you combine the victims who died and survived, close to 300 people have still been shot in 6 months time.

"It's still an outrageous number of people killed and shot," said Tulane Criminologist Peter Scharf, who also points to how shooters take aim.

"They shoot through crowds of people," said Scharf. "They are trying to get to the dope dealer at the other edge of the crowd. They just shoot through people."

Serpas agrees.

"We do know that they fire a lot of shots here in New Orleans," he said. "They do fire a lot of shots."

Dozens of shooting incidents this year have wounded two or more victims.

But it's the high profile cases like the one on Bourbon Street last month that chips away at public perception and makes people afraid.

Here's the reality though.

When it comes to gun violence in New Orleans, the 8th District - which includes the French Quarter - saw 14 non-fatal shootings this year and is still one of the safest areas.

The shocker may be the 3rd District which covers Lakeview and Gentilly. It has seen the most non-fatal shootings to date, 44. Almost all of them happened in Gentilly. The 5th District recorded 36 non-fatal shootings. There have been 34 shooting victims in the 7th District.

The lowest number of non-fatal shootings, 12, is in the 2nd District Uptown.

Police say hot spots can change year to year. What doesn't change is who's doing the shooting. Chief Serpas says an analysis done in late 2013 for the NOPD by the University of Chicago's crime lab shows the blaring need for tougher consequences for gun offenders.

"In New Orleans, someone arrested for possessing a firearm or illegal use of a firearm, within 12 months of that arrest without incarceration, is 3 times more likely to be re-arrested for murder or manslaughter and 5 times more likely to commit a violent crime," said Serpas. "That's a clue. That's not a hard thing to figure out."

Who's getting shot hasn't changed much either. According to the records, 95 percent of the 219 shooting survivors are African American and most are males.

"Is the police department doing a good job? Yes," says Scharf. "Are some of these programs we've talked about for years starting to kick in? Yes."

But the next number highlights the challenge police face on the back end of shooting investigations. Only 14 of the non-fatal shooting incidents have been cleared, 160 cases remain open with arrest warrants in about a dozen and a half cases.

Despite better ballistics testing, DNA testing and video evidence, low manpower often means low solve rate.

"As science has made us smarter, it hasn't reduced the work needed to solve a case," said Serpas. "We still need more officers. We still need people to do all that work."

With the overall shootings hovering about the same as 2013 and fewer murders, police continue to watch the numbers closely and look for new ways to stop those most likely to pull the trigger.

"Because it's very important that people feel totally safe in a city. Not just their neighborhoods or where they're comfortable," said Serpas.

Records show gun violence has slowed down for the month of July, with four murders for the first 17 days of the month and about seven people shot and wounded.

This week, the city announced phase two of its aggressive recruitment campaign in an effort to boost NOPD manpower. The city's goal is to build the force back up to 1600 officers. Right now, there are just over 1,100 men and women wearing the badge.

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