The 2006 crime statistics that have been slowly ' and begrudgingly ' rolled out by law enforcement across Louisiana have bolstered growing resentment among communities statewide. There are overall or partial increases in violent crimes practically across the board, and almost all of Louisiana's major metropolitan areas have already recorded homicides for 2007.
Angry mobs of voters are forming from New Orleans to Shreveport, holding town hall meetings and creating watchdog groups. At the same time, lawmakers are preparing for a regular session that kicks off in April, followed quickly by the fall elections. It's a collision course that promises tough-on-crime bills and pie-in-the sky solutions from the stump. Jim Kitchens, founder of the Orlando-based Kitchens Group, has conducted extensive polling on the matter in Louisiana and around the nation. While crime isn't emerging as a serious issue outside state lines, Kitchens is reporting a spike in Louisiana. The state managed to sail through the 1990s without it becoming a central public concern, but the climate is rapidly changing. "This is a fundamental political issue and always has been," Kitchens says. "Public safety is kind of No. 1, and this year in Louisiana, it could be big."
According to nationwide figures recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the first six months of 2006 saw a 3.7 percent jump in violent crime, including a 9.7 percent increase in robbery, a 1.4 percent increase in murder and a 1.2 percent increase in aggravated assault. Domestic violent crime is up for the second year in a row.
The same report also shows large leaps in Louisiana.
Lafayette's problem is that the police department can't seem to figure out whether crime is on the rise. The FBI's preliminary report showed a 45 percent increase in violent crime here, more than 10 times the national average, while robbery figures supposedly doubled and rapes and aggravated assaults had major leaps as well. Lafayette Interim Police Chief Jim Craft said the figures were the result of a computer glitch but also predicted an increase in crime for the region of three to 10 percent for 2006.
The New Year started out deadly in New Orleans, with eight homicides over a 10-day period. It's the continuation of a disturbing Crescent City trend in 2006. If the city's population is 220,000, as cited by University of New Orleans criminologist Peter Scharf, then last year's 161 murders equates to approximately 73 homicides per 100,000 people. That's more than five times the national average. Thousands of outraged New Orleans residents marched on City Hall last Thursday to demand answers and a plan to curb the violence from Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Warren Riley.
Baton Rouge, with twice the population of Lafayette, saw a 12 percent increase in violent crimes last year, according to the report, with homicides coming in at 72, up from 50 in 2005. Shreveport's 30 murders in 2006 are a historic low for the city, but the FBI stats reveal notable increases in motor vehicle thefts and aggravated assaults.
The few silver linings haven't been enough for voters plagued by images of serial killers in the state and bloodshed in hurricane-stricken areas. "Even if crime isn't on the increase, there is obviously a crime problem," Kitchens says. "The news is reporting more crime, and that spike is creating concern."
Based on the results of last year's Louisiana Survey, conducted by Louisiana State University, there was a 17-point increase in the percentage of residents citing concern over issues related to crime and public safety. Additionally, the percentage of Louisianans that believe the state has become less safe over the past year increased by 19 points. The overall concern about crime in some areas has equaled or surpassed 2003, when south Louisiana serial killer Derrick Todd Lee was still at large.
"There is good news and bad news in this result," says Dr. Kirby Goidel, who oversaw the LSU study. "A return to other concerns is a reflection of a more stable political and economic environment, but it also means that other pressing concerns may lessen the sense of urgency needed to successfully rebuild the affected areas."
The unconventional studies detailed in Freakonomics, written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, might be used as a foundation for action. While reviewing why crime dropped in the 1990s, the duo credited stiffer prison sentences and more police on the street. With the state Legislature's penchant for mandatory minimums, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco's ongoing quest for police pay raises, this theory could come home to roost in Louisiana.
Kitchens says that approach might balloon prison populations and put the state budget on a bit of a tilt, but it's among the many solutions voters will be asking for in coming months. "Anytime the public has a perception that the crime rate is growing, they are going to look to politicians to solve the problem," he says. "Now we just have to see if they come up with anything."
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.