In January of this year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Chief Ronal Serpas gathered at City Hall to discuss plans for reducing crime in New Orleans.
Mayor Landrieu explained that the meeting, held in the first days on 2011, was to "begin the new year by restating this administration's priorities."
"Crime," said Landrieu "has always been our number one priority."
That statement might be tough to swallow for Jose, business owner in the South Claiborne area not far from downtown. In the days surrounding Christmas and the New Year, 4 Hispanics were murdered in Jose's neighborhood. One of the killings took place just a block and a half from his doorstep.
"I feel disillusioned because this is not the first time. It's just that we are troubled now because this was a special day, days supposedly of peace"
Jose says part of the problem is a lack of police surveillance. "There is not much concern on the part of the authorities," Jose says of his South Claiborne neighborhood. "Why are they not more worried about the most dangerous areas?" "More focus has to be put on this area, not just the places tourists go."
Jose leaves work as late as 3:00 in the morning. Seeing groups walking the streets at this late hour, Jose wonders why police drive by without regularly stopping to check on the situation and make sure no one is armed. "They do however," says Jose, "stop the Latinos."
The relationship between Hispanics and the NOPD, says Jose, is problematic. Jose recounts instances in which he or his neighbors were stopped by New Orleans police officers and given unwarranted tickets for traffic violations they did not commit. "Hispanics are always victims. I am telling you from experience."
Such encounters have left many afraid to go to the police. "80% of robberies of Latinos are not reported," says Jose. "For fear or ignorance they don't go to the police."
Jose points out that assaults like the December murders affect the city as a whole. "This is detrimental to the city as well." Jose says the violence is nearly intolerable, and that, despite investment in his community and his business, he is considering leaving New Orleans "because the situation is so dangerous."
At the press conference, Landrieu said 2010's minor improvements in crime statistics were "unacceptable." The number of murders in the last year did not decrease at all from 2009 figures.
Serpas presented a number of new programs scheduled to be in place for 2011, which model the highest ranked police departments in the United States. Among these is the "El Protector" program.
El Protector originated in California in the early nineties, and was originally designed to advance traffic safety among Spanish-speaking populations.
Here in New Orleans, Serpas has plans for a newer version of the program, which will include a branch to reach out to the Vietnamese population as well. El Protector aims to reduce DWI fatalities and traffic infractions, educate on domestic violence and the services available, prevent crime and educate on burglaries, robberies and gang violence, and to establish a relationship with community organizations and other groups.
Serpas says the program "will enhance the NOPD's ability to serve the ever changing diversity of our community, which will also help build faith and confidence in the NOPD's services." He reports that the program has already officially been approved, with the officers leading El Protector scheduled to train in Nashville, which houses its own El Protector program, later this month. He expects the program to be fully functioning by the end of February.
Jose says he is in the process of scheduling a meeting with New Orleans Police to present his community's problems and discuss solutions. He is waiting for the PD to confirm a date. Jose will have to tell us how the meeting goes, and if we may expect tangible results in the New Year.
Callan Burzynski is an Assistant Editor for Jambalaya News.
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