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."
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seenh on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Dogs get back-to-school blues; mother pleads for release of journalist; ice bucket challenge and more national and international news for Thursday, August 28, 2014.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.
The books on Louisiana's last budget year have been closed, but it took a bit of borrowing from this year to make the numbers work.
The Iberia Parish Coroner responded Monday to the attention surrounding the questionable shooting of Victor White III, a black man from New Iberia who died April 2 while in the custody of local law enforcement.
Two months after lawmakers agreed to create a $40 million higher education incentive fund, no decisions have been made about how to divide the money.
With Drew Brees back healthy, the New Orleans Saints are free to work on the little things that can make the difference between a Super Bowl run and something less.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her lead GOP challenger Congressman Bill Cassidy are running close when it comes to money. Landrieu has $5.5 million to Cassidy’s $5.6 million in the bank.
With expectations mounting that Gov. Bobby Jindal will soon announce his campaign for president, attention is turning to not only who he will bring along with him but also what will transpire politically back home during the transition.
Seven of the 11 U.S. cities in a new ranking of “most dangerous diets” are in the Bayou and Lone Star states, but the ranking is more about poverty than fried oysters.
Lafayette police are investigating a fatal shooting involving an alleged burglar and homeowner.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham got the message from the NFL. He's not dunking footballs over goal posts any more.
With qualifying over, the start of campaign season is official, and for the Lafayette Parish School Board, the race toward Nov. 4 will pit 20 candidates in battles for all 9 of the district’s available seats.