New report gives New Orleans government good marks, but says more work needs to be done to fix city’s murder problem

The number of murders in New Orleans is still unacceptably high but the city and the City Council have made “good progress” in improving the criminal justice system and on six other issues, according to report issued Friday by a coalition of more than 30 civic, neighborhood and business organizations.

“There’s more to be done, but certainly steps are being taken in the right direction,” said Gregory Rusovich, former chairman of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region and a representative of Forward New Orleans, which issued the government assessment.

“You can look across the board and point out significant successes.”

Still, government leaders should expand the Hot Spot Community Policing program, increase police recruit classes, strengthen the NOLA for Life initiative, enlarge correctional facilities and encourage federal, state and local law enforcement cooperation to reduce violent crime and continue to improve the criminal justice system, Forward New Orleans said in its report.

Additionally, the criminal justice system would benefit from a systemwide, comprehensive budget process to replace a current system where budgets are created by a department or agency, the coalition said.

Forward New Orleans, led by the Business Council, was created in December 2009 to secure written pledges from mayoral and City Council candidates to make improvements in seven areas: crime, blight, city finance, economic development, city services and infrastructure, city contracting and public education.

The review issued Friday was the group’s fourth “progress report.”

The report praised the city for shedding its title as the most blighted city in America and lauded Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s blight reduction strategy. But the coalition said it is disappointed by the absence of some sort of neighborhood-based code enforcement strategy.

The report also commended the city on the establishment of new ordinance aimed at increasing opportunities for disadvantaged business enterprises to share in city contracts. Vendors who fail to comply with City Hall’s minority contracting goals now risk having their contracts terminated or payments withheld under the ordinance approved by the council and signed by Landrieu in June.

“For years we kept saying that there was no DBE form of enforcement,” Rusovich said. “We now have the Office of Supplier Diversity in City Hall which is an enforcement mechanism. Can we do more on DBE enforcement efforts? Of course. But at least now, the foundation is there, the staffing is there to start having a vibrant DBE program which the community badly needs.”

Although Landrieu and the city council don’t directly control public education it is included in the report card because the administration and the council have the power to guide developments from the “bully pulpit,” Rusovich said. While there’s a good spirit for cooperation and support for the charter school movement, there is concern about the discord within the current school board, he said.

Forward New Orleans is issuing a separate report on public education.

“It’s very disappointing for Forward New Orleans to see this board in disarray right now,” Rusovich said. “It’s not good for the kids.”

Overall, Rusovich said the local government and community have come a long way and made significant transformations since the coalition’s first report five years ago.