New Orleans — With violence in New Orleans exploding in recent weeks, Loyola University officials are hoping a free crime symposium today will spark some new ideas about solving the city’s persistent crime problems.
The university’s Department of Criminal Justice is sponsoring the event titled “Preventing Lethal Violence in New Orleans: A Public Symposium on Effective Community Based Solutions.’’
Department Chairman William Thornton said officials are not naïve enough to believe the symposium can solve the city’s ills, but they do believe it can get people thinking about different ways to attack the problem.
For too long, politicians, academics and residents have focused on reforming and improving the criminal justice system to lower violence, Thornton said. But while Louisiana incarcerates more people than any other state, New Orleans still has the highest murder rate in the nation. Thornton said that’s proof that the current tactics aren’t working.
“We’ve studied the criminal justice system for decades, and that has not been a deterrent from violence in the United States,” Thornton said. “We’ve got to start somewhere else.”
The symposium will feature speakers from across the country including David Kennedy, one the architects of “Operation Ceasefire,” a popular violence-reduction strategy. Kennedy is meeting with New Orleans officials this week to see which of the program’s methods can be used in the city.
Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and City Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo also are expected to speak. Thornton said DeSalvo’s presence is related to a new crime-fighting approach that views violence from a public health perspective.
Nationally, experts are examining how child abuse and neglect, along with mental health issues, impact a community’s overall safety, Thornton said. Studies have shown that a significant percentage of individuals arrested have untreated mental issues. Following the shocking recent arrest of Chelsea Thornton, a local woman accused of murdering her two children, DeSalvo said it’s become increasing clear that mental health is a public safety issue.
“Violence is almost like a disease,” Thornton said. “We have more young black males dying from homicide then from any other cause in the United States.”
Another focus of the symposium will be the idea of increasing “community efficacy.” Thornton said communities that have long-standing histories of violence can be written off by authorities, and they must learn how to create political and social clout. Ralph Sampson, a Harvard researcher, has studied community efficacy and will discuss developing a unified voice that increases the flow of resources, like increased police staffing, to communities.
“It’s a right of all people in New Orleans to have those things. It’s not that we’re giving them things,” Thornton said. “(These communities) do not have the same power base and services that other socioeconomic communities have had.”
Thornton acknowledged that many of these topics, along with the impact of poverty, racism and poor education, have been discussed for decades in New Orleans and cities like it across the country. However, he’s hoping residents and officials will see the move to community-based solutions as something worth pursuing. More importantly, he wants to get communities talking.
“The police can’t operate without community support … They can’t solve it by themselves,” Thornton said. “Who actually knows what crimes are happening in a community? The people who live there.”
The symposium is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Louis J. Roussel Performance Hall in the Communications/Music Complex at Loyola. It is free and open to the public.
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