Our Views: Shooting must drive change

In the aftermath of a French Quarter shooting in which 10 people were struck by bullets and one victim died, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has asked for state and federal help to make the city safer.

Landrieu asked for 100 state troopers to patrol the city long-term and requested that the federal government commit more funding and resources to help New Orleans fight crime.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson deployed 30 troopers to help patrol the French Quarter area for the Essence Festival weekend, when tourist traffic was expected to be especially heavy.

Public safety in New Orleans should be a concern for everyone in Louisiana. The city is an important part of the state’s image and economy. The Crescent City’s iconic national profile should make it a federal priority, too.

But the primary responsibility for keeping New Orleans safe will always rest in local hands. The city has a long way to go in strengthening its law enforcement and criminal justice system so that key institutions can be effective in maintaining order. The French Quarter shooting underscores the urgency of that effort.

Both the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans Parish Prison are under federal consent decrees because of widespread management problems. The NOPD would need more than 400 more officers to reach the 1,575 total that Landrieu and NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas have mentioned as ideal. Manpower at the department has dropped on Landrieu’s watch. The department’s ranks recently stood at 1,141 officers, down from 1,525 four years ago.

A recent Advocate article revealed that recruitment efforts for new officers have yielded few results.

Meanwhile, violent crimes and property offenses in the city are on the rise. And while there might not be an easily quantifiable link between police staffing levels and reported crime, public perception cannot be ignored. The NOPD’s dwindling force sends the wrong message to New Orleans residents and visitors who must naturally wonder, in the wake of incidents such as the French Quarter shootings, whether criminals now have the upper hand.

Beefing up law enforcement can’t be the only answer to public safety concerns, of course. We’re heartened by Landrieu’s focus on programs such as NOLA for Life, a collaboration that joins law enforcement and social service agencies in an effort to stop the culture of violence in troubled neighborhoods. Similar initiatives in other cities have had encouraging results.

These programs rightly recognize that a climate of lawlessness in any neighborhood threatens public safety throughout a community. New Orleans residents have learned by now that no area is immune from crime. Bloodshed in the French Quarter, the city’s heart, tells us that this is so.

Tragedies such as the French Quarter shooting tend to fade from public view, but we hope that the deep heartache from this incident drives sustained improvements in the institutions responsible for keeping New Orleans safe. Forgetting this heinous act of violence would only hasten the day when more blood spills in a city that’s already seen too much carnage.