City, DA in dance of dueling statements over crime plan, budget cuts

City fires back after Orleans D.A. makes scathing comments
Updated: Jan. 25, 2017 at 8:00 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There's a war of words between city leaders and the Orleans Parish district attorney.

One day after the city announced a new $40 million public safety initiative, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro blasted elected leaders, saying they're putting politics ahead of public safety.

We made repeated requests to interview Mayor Mitch Landrieu about Cannizzaro's comments.

"Look, at the end of the day this is really clear, it's not really even about public safety, this is about the politics and you know we have a $600 million budget. In that, there are some people that see increases, the mayor's office took a cut, the council took a cut and many agencies take cuts," said City of New Orleans Deputy Mayor of External Affairs Ryan Berni.

At the Metropolitan Crime Commission luncheon Tuesday afternoon, Cannizzaro said the city has placed the public at risk by cutting his budget by $600,000 and attacking his office for accepting too many cases.

"This attack was orchestrated by certain council members who think my office prosecutes too many cases and who believes my office prosecutes too many 15- and 16-year-old armed robberies in the Criminal District Court," said Cannizzaro.

Wednesday afternoon, some council members responded to that.

"Council, you know, as a group, as a whole, said let's step back here on the funding with the message that, you know, please look at your practices of jailing too many youths in adult jails and what that does to them when they come out in the next few years," said New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry.

New Orleans City Councilman-at-large Jason Williams had this to say: "The D.A.'s most recent tantrum is unfortunate but it is not at all surprising it sounds like the exact same fear mongering that Richard Nixon used in his southern strategy, it's the same fear mongering that was used on the failed war on drugs, we're not asking anything from the D.A. that we aren't asking from other departments."

Tuesday, Cannizzaro also criticized the city's new public safety initiative.

"What does the plan include? As you might imagine it did not include any resources for the systemically underfunded district attorney's office in the City of New Orleans, but it does apparently include funding for increased parking enforcement. Now, that's important. If there is some correlation, ladies and gentlemen, between armed robbery and shooting and people who park their car too close to the corner or on the curb, no one told me about that," said Cannizzaro.

We asked Berni about that Wednesday.

"Look, a lot of the plan that was unveiled this week included sources that are one time funds for one time things also somethings in there like the parking and other measures are built into the base of the budget so it is not necessarily new money but packaging of $40-million  that will be spent on public safety and quality of life measures,"said Berni.

Wednesday afternoon, Berni also released the following statement:

"This is not a fight between the Mayor and the DA. This is clearly about politics—not about reducing crime. The DA is upset that the Council cut his budget, like many other departments. He also doesn't like that the Council is asking him tough questions about his policies that contribute to over-incarceration in our city. The Landrieu administration believes we can be tough and smart on crime at the same time. That is why we unveiled a robust package of citywide public safety investments that is supported by the FBI, State Police, Governor, State Legislators, City Council and business leaders.  Monitored crime cameras and license plate readers will ensure better cases for the NOPD and District Attorney, and will ensure we get more violent criminals off the street.  Ensuring public safety is serious business that shouldn't be tangled in political fights over budgets."

Later Wednesday, the D.A.'s office released the following:

"The District Attorney along with numerous members of his staff attended each and every meeting of Mr. Williams' Juvenile Justice Working Group.  However, the group failed to present any compelling alternatives to the District Attorney's pre-existing robust individualized screening process utilized by the D.A.'s office to evaluate the transferability of violent 15 and 16-yearold offenders.

"The District Attorney agrees that the City Council possesses the authority to set the budget.  However, he believes that its members should be held accountable for their decisions and should not run from a public debate.  The District Attorney has never had a particular goal with respect to its acceptance rate.  The District Attorney has repeatedly stated that his only goal is for his office to diligently work to ensure that it initiate prosecution in every case in which it possesses proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a defendant's guilt.

"As to Mr. Williams' specific requests, the District Attorney's office already engages in a meaningful individualized screening process.  This process has been observed by countless Federal law enforcement agencies, the Louisiana State Police, and the New Orleans Police Monitor's office.  Sadly, Mr. Williams has been invited to observe this process, but has declined multiple invitations.

"The District Attorney's office does prosecute every case in a just manner regardless of race, wealth, or where you reside, and Mr. Williams has presented zero evidence that it does not.

"The District Attorney's office does collect real data.  Furthermore, it shares that data with the city of New Orleans including the City Council, the Vera Institute, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, and Court Watch NOLA.  You would have to ask Mr. Williams whether or not he chooses to actually review that data."

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