Serpas:¬†Officers to be ‘out in force’

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said his department will be flooding the French Quarter, Central Business District, Treme and Marigny with officers this week to control crime as revelers stream into New Orleans for a variety of big events.

Serpas said that more than a third of the Police Department, or roughly 500 officers, will be assigned to the First and Eight Districts until Thursday to handle revelers in town for New Year’s celebration and the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl.

In a news conference Monday, Serpas said New Orleans has become one of the most popular spots in the country to bring in the New Year, and his department plans to be highly visible in tourist-heavy areas as a crime deterrent. The city has announced possible traffic restrictions downtown, and police will be enforcing curfew rules tightly.

“We will be out in force,” Serpas said.

However, he did stress that the department has a plan in place to maintain district staffing levels, and the NOPD expects to receive some assistance from neighboring law enforcement agencies.

Serpas’ said preliminary crime statistics show a small decrease in the city’s homicides in 2012 compared to 2011. New Orleans has recorded 193 homicides so far in 2012 compared to 199 in 2011. However, this year’s figure includes two homicides that were reported within minutes of Serpas announcing the slight decrease in killings and a third from early on Monday morning.

Just as Serpas was wrapping up his news conference around 1:30 p.m., an unidentified man was fatally shot in the 2000 block of Cypress Acres Drive in Algiers. About 40 minutes after that, police were called to the intersection of North Dorgenois and Mazant streets after a man was reported dead there with a gunshot wound to the head.

No other information on the victims was immediately available, and no motive or suspects has been released. Police were already investigating the fatal shooting of Lester Adams, 42, of Chalmette, who was shot leaving a bar Monday morning.

But, despite that coincidence, Serpas said he believes the city’s new focus on a holistic approach to bringing down the homicide rate will pay dividends. Mayor Mitch Landrieu kicked off the NOLA For Life campaign in 2012 and also announced the creation of new gang violence task force. Although Serpas said it’s too early to really tell how successful the programs have been, he said they seem promising.

“I believe that in the long run, NOLA For Life will cause that difference,” Serpas said.

Moreover, Serpas said his department will add several new officers, stemming the tide of departures that the NOPD has seen in recent years. Staffing levels have been a problem for the NOPD, and the department is about 300 officers below what Serpas would consider the optimal level. However, he said it’s encouraging that despite being shorthanded, police are expecting decreases in homicides, rapes, armed robberies, burglaries and auto burglaries once the statistics for 2012 are finalized.

“While there is no time to ever rest on our laurels, I want to look at the men and women of the New Orleans Police Department and say ‘Job well done,’” Serpas said. “For 2013, it will be the first time since I’ve been superintendent that we stop the sliding.”

Serpas noted that recent reports have praised police for improving their relationship with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and reducing the number of frivolous arrests made. However, he stressed that the city has a long way to go, noting that police still encounter a significant subset of residents who are under-educated, under or unemployed and firmly ensconced in a criminal lifestyle.