Overall crime in N.O. drops slightly in 2012

Overall crime in New Orleans had a slight decline in 2012, but that decrease included a significant decline in the last three months of the year.

As visitors stream into New Orleans for Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas proclaimed that the city is headed in the right direction and is actually “safer” than neighboring Jefferson Parish, despite the perception to the contrary.

Serpas based the statement on the fact that the total crimes reported in New Orleans were 12 percent lower than the total crimes reported in Jefferson Parish according to the final 2011 crime numbers released by the FBI. He also noted that there are about five more crimes per day in Jefferson Parish than New Orleans. Serpas said the city has earned a reputation that doesn’t always match reality.

“What’s not fair is that people think Jefferson Parish is a far safer place than New Orleans, and that’s just not true,” Serpas said. “We believe we’re going to continue to see crime reduction.”

However, Serpas’ figures are based on combining unincorporated Jefferson Parish and all of its municipalities, which all operate under different police departments. Serpas also used the total crime figures and the crimes-per-day numbers, which don’t take into account the difference of roughly 72,000 residents between New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, which is the second most populous parish in the state. Taking population into account, New Orleans has a slightly higher overall crime rate than Jefferson Parish, based on the FBI’s 2011 numbers.

Serpas said what the most recent statistics show is that the efforts his department has made to embrace technology and engage residents are paying dividends. Although overall crime declined less than 1 percent in 2012, the final three months showed an 8 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2011.

That decrease even extended to homicides, the statistic by which the Police Department is often judged. Serpas said homicides in the fourth quarter dropped by 18 percent. In fact, he said the trend is continuing this year because the city has had fewer than half the homicides this past January than it had in 2012. And those numbers were inflated by six homicides in six days to close out the month.

“The safety level in New Orleans is getting better,” Serpas said. “By and large, the city of New Orleans is on the right path.”

Serpas said it’s crucial for his department to build on its gains. That means continuing to use its new anti-gang task force and maintain the NOLA for Life campaign. Serpas noted that tips to Crimestoppers have increased significantly, and that means the public is involved in making things better.

“We want to continue to stay focused,” Serpas said.

Agencies all over the region reported crime reductions in 2012, with crime in unincorporated Jefferson Parish dropping to its lowest level since 1974, and several of the parish’s municipalities reported double-digit decreases in overall crime.