New Orleans — Violent crime across the country is continuing its steady decline, according to figures recently released by the FBI. But here in New Orleans, one particular violent crime, homicide, is aggressively bucking that national trend.
Federal officials released the national uniform crime reporting statistics on Monday, and they show that violent crimes and property crimes reported to police have continued to decline across the country.
Violent crime is down 4.5 percent, the fifth consecutive year that the FBI has recorded a decline.
Property crime is down 1.3 percent nationally, the ninth consecutive time those figures have decreased.
The FBI collects data on homicides, rapes, robberies, burglaries, car thefts, aggravated assaults/batteries and thefts from law enforcement agencies across the country. The agency counts rapes, robberies, homicides and aggravated assaults/batteries as violent crimes.
Based on national numbers, New Orleans had a slightly higher rate of violent crime per 100,000 residents than other similar-sized cities.
The per capita rate for cities with populations between 250,000 and 499,999 was 771, while the rate in New Orleans was 791, according to the data. The city reported a total of 2,748 violent crimes in 2011.
In comparison, Baton Rouge police investigated 2,468 violent crimes in 2011, and that city’s violent crime rate was 1,065 per 100,000 residents, according to the FBI’s stats.
But, New Orleans again dominated the statistics when it came to homicides and retained the dubious moniker of the nation’s murder capital, at least for larger cities.
In 2011, the city reported 200 homicides, which gave it a per capita homicide rate of 57.6. That’s nearly nine times as many homicides per 100,000 residents as cities like New York and Los Angeles.
The city’s homicide rate has been a constant area of concern for residents and politicians.
New Orleans is on pace to meet or exceed its homicide total from last year.
Last week, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas promised during a crime symposium at Loyola University that the homicide rate would decline given new strategies the city has been working on for months with noted criminologist David Kennedy.
Loyola criminal justice professor Vincenzo Sainato said the push to adopt some of Kennedy’s methods is encouraging, because Kennedy has had proven success making a dent in violence in cities like Boston and High Point, N.C.
The popular solution of locking people up and throwing away the key is no longer serving as deterrent in some neighborhoods, Sainato said.
“This is not a traditional approach to criminal behavior,” Sainato said. “You have an environment where (going to prison) has become inevitable and acceptable. … It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of deal.”
Recently, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten met with about 40 well-known offenders as part of Kennedy’s strategy.
In his recent book, Kennedy noted that crime is driven by a small group of criminals, while most residents want safe, law-abiding communities.
One of Kennedy’s strategies is to notify offenders and their families that officials already have enough evidence to make arrests on serious federal charges and show them some of that evidence.
Offenders are then given a warning that violence and continued criminal activity will result in them facing the full might of the law. Officials follow up those threats with an immediate response to violence.
However, instead of just cracking down on violence, Kennedy also advocates establishing stronger ties with respected community members who can diffuse tension and serve as mentors.
There is also a need to provide education and job services to offer offenders a true alternative to crime, Kennedy writes in his book.
Sainato said creating those community ties is crucial because often community members are deeply invested in improving areas that many others, even police, have written off.
Sainato said the national crime numbers can be misleading because they mask the fact that crime has become ultra-concentrated in some neighborhoods, even as citywide numbers decrease.
“What’s hidden in those numbers is that (crime) skyrocketed in certain pockets,” Sainato said.
In New Orleans, Sainato pointed to well-known issues of poverty, street justice, subpar education and high incarceration rates as causes behind the sky-high homicide rate.
He also noted that Hurricane Katrina deeply fragmented neighborhoods and families and those effects are still being felt today.
Studies have shown that crime is much higher in communities with higher numbers of single-parent households, or where children are being reared by their grandparents, he said.
“That has a huge, huge impact,” Sainato said.