Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Justice failed under Nagin

Crime is one issue that will be going on my list of issues that need to be on Ray Nagin's agenda. As I've said before, I don't remember Nagin having much to say about a rising murder rate in New Orleans pre-Katrina. The criminal justice system was broken, and he did nothing.

Now, post-Katrina, when criminals are making a comeback, Nagin is a Johnny-come-lately to the crime problem.

It's long overdue time for criminal justice reform to occur in New Orleans.

Since Eddie Harrison III was released from prison on an armed robbery conviction, while Ray Nagin was mayor of New Orleans, the city failed to prosecute Harrison three times before he shot NOPD officer Andres Gonzalez on Monday:

At age 17, Eddie Harrison III pleaded guilty to felony armed robbery in May 1999 in the Jefferson Parish case and was sentenced to five years in prison. He completed his sentence and was eligible for a first-offender pardon effective Oct. 10, 2003, according to the state Department of Corrections.

A month after his release, Harrison went back into police custody on new felony charges in Orleans Parish. He was booked with aggravated assault with a firearm, being a felon with a firearm, automobile theft and possession of a stolen automobile. The Orleans Parish district attorney's office refused the charges weeks later, records show.

On July 6, 2004, Harrison was booked with aggravated battery, but Orleans Parish prosecutors last year decided not to pursue the case.

The most recent charges before Monday's incident occurred Jan. 7, when Harrison was booked with resisting an officer, possession of a stolen vehicle and altering a vehicle identification number.

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At 5/25/2006 04:04:00 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Nagin is ultimately responsible for the NOPD, but we elect our district attorney and judges. These people are the ones who bear the greatest responsibility for crime in NOLA.

I just finished reading the long Time article on crime in NOLA (which my mother-in-law couldn't wait to stuff into my hands, xeroxed probably by my father-in-law the former state's attorney).

It identifies a large part of the problem as a criminal class that knew it would rarely face inprisonment.

At 5/25/2006 05:05:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Yes, that's true, but Nagin never made it a priority to address this issue. He may not be able to fire judges, but he sure as hell could embarrass the hell out of them every day until they start doing their jobs, or the people recall them. Furthermore, I never got the sense that Nagin was addressing the crime problem -- that he was exercising the authority and access he has to law enforcement officials at the highest levels to address the crime problem proactively, rather than reactively.

At 5/25/2006 08:57:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

Then again we have a police force that spends more time trying to arrest non-violent drug users, thereby further disenfranchising a community of individuals who might otherwise be helpful in capturing REAL, as in violent crrime, criminals. Worse is that required mandatory minimum snetencing means non-violent drug-offendors are often kept in jail and violent offenders are released due to "overcrowding". Anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

And does is strike anyone else as racist that mandatory minimum sentences are far higher for lesser amounts of crack cocaine (the form generally preferred African American users) than they are for powdered cocaine (the form preferred by White users)? Don't even get me started on people getting busted for prostitution or for "gambling" (what, are they providing too much competition by betting on football pools instead of playing the state lottery?)

At 5/25/2006 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Lenny, that's an excellent point!

What -- were you listening to Rafael Goyaneche on WWL yesterday too?

But yes, the NOPD wastes far too much time trying to create arrests (for better looking statistics) than it does actually going after the really bad guys. The problem with that is that they spend SO MUCH TIME writing reports and taking arrestees to jail.

Another solution might be to have crews of people whose only job is to write reports after police respond to a call. That might not work, because you'd still have to have people who have all the training of an officer in order to fill out the report correctly.

There does need to be a shift in priorities away from petty arrests. A simple summons to appear in court would save time.

At 5/25/2006 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

Heck, when it comes to petty arrests I can't help but think of something I read recently. It was how some particularly affluent section of some city had voted to pay an extra fee per household to have police increase patrols thorugh their pretty much crime-free neighborhood. Once that was accomplished those same residents then started to complain about all of the petty traffic tickets they started getting. The police chief simply stated that his officers had to show that they were "productive" and that tickets and arrests were the only way to show that was happening.

Personally I'd prefer if the cops were just doing nothing over enforcing stupid, petty laws or, even worse, making up violations just to show they were "on the job". I'd much prefer our police act a lot more like it's Mardi Gras all the time, in terms of being fairly lenient overall, but cracking down hard on the folks that REALLY start crossing the line. Otherwise it seems to me tht cops not working is a GOOD thing. It often means one of the bigger perks of their job, deterring crime, is working!

Ah well, it's not like I have much pull anywhere anyway. Too many neocons where I live in Metarie for my lone vote to make a difference (doesn't stop my from trying, though. ;)) Not to mention my libertarian attitudes tend to mean I really get no representation in government anyway, since my choices always seem limited to Dems and Reps. Just not much choice for me there. :(

At 5/25/2006 04:34:00 PM, Blogger G Bitch said...

"Markus said: I just finished reading the long Time article on crime in NOLA (which my mother-in-law couldn't wait to stuff into my hands, xeroxed probably by my father-in-law the former state's attorney).

It identifies a large part of the problem as a criminal class that knew it would rarely face inprisonment."

Anyone ask why? Aside from Lenny's good points about non-violent drug arrests, there are issues like the youth and inexperience of much of the police force on the street, the rotten public defender system, a district attorney's office also in turmoil with underpaid and overworked lawyers usually right out of law school, and the all-too-frequent murder and/or harassment of witnesses by defendants and their families and friends. It is nearly impossible to get a witness to testify against some of these habitual criminals b/c they will and do kill witnesses or members of their families to get them to shut up. and the police do little about it.

More than 1/2 the force has been out of the police academy and on the force 5 years or less. Cops average about 25 years old, it seems. With that little experience, they seem to go after what's easy--non-violent drug "crime."

Lenny is right, too, when he says "I'd much prefer our police act a lot more like it's Mardi Gras all the time, in terms of being fairly lenient overall, but cracking down hard on the folks that REALLY start crossing the line." Cops harassing people for petty shit makes it more dangerous for them and changes not one damn thing about our crime rate. If they could leave the potheads alone and not bash in the head of every mouthy drunk they meet, the cops might be able to find a murderer or 2. Prosecuting the murderer with no witnesses is another story.

At 5/26/2006 06:42:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

Well, I think smashing drunks in the mouth also brings serious questions into the minds of potential witnesses about the efficacy of a police force to actually protect them. If the police are, in effect, the folks who are more likely to try to put you down then they are to lend a sympathetic ear, then why would you really trust telling them anything? Maybe you did see a murder in your neighborhood, but even if you had no fear of retaliation from friends of the killer why would you want to submit yourself to the scrutiny of a police force that is just as likely to arrest you because by speaking up you turn their eye onto you. Will they find out about that joint you left in the ashtray when they come to get information about the murder from you? Will they see your copy of the football pool from the office and nail you for illegal gambling? Will they see that you keep a handgun in the house for protection and harass you about it, or worse take it away during a time when you need it most because you can never trust that the police will be able to respond in time to protect you, nor or they required to anyway?

The police forces have become a "them", an "other". They are not "us". When the folks that have sworn themselves to protect you and your rights from thugs start looking like thugs themselves, how can you really put your trust in them? (BTW, I strongly believe that the temptations of making consensaul actions, such as taking drugs, illegal inevitably leads to police corruption.)

At 5/26/2006 07:04:00 PM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I would note that all of this discussion reminds me of Sherrif Harry Lee's statements when the Jefferson Parish President decided to be so kind as to give us 3 days to get back in our own damned homes. He stated something to the effect that he was against allowing it to happen because he didn;t ahve enough officers to protect anyone, and even tossed in a few choice words about cracking down on the curfew and not wanting to see anhyone "take the law into their own hands." Which speaks to me of an "I AM the Law" attitude.

At any rate this is at a time when the population in Jefferson was virtually non-existant and the effective ratio of officers to civilians was quite high. Yet I have to question why is it that crime does not run rampant when the Parish is filled with people and we VASTLY outnumber our law enforcement officials? Is it maybe because they are only most effective when WE let them know what is going on? When we look out our own windows and see people we do not recognize or see suspicious activities isn't it by the grace of the citizenry that law enforcement is able to better do their own jobs? His assumption was opening the Parish would be an open invitation to looters, as if somehow the normal residents of the Parish were nothing but hoodlums. If our law enforcement officials view the people they have sworn to protect as their potential enemy instead of as their potential ally then aren't we just looking at the rise of the kind of police stat and tyranny that our forefathers fought so hard to shirk?

How can we be expected to respect those who sometimes seem to relish instead in proving thier power over us? When they have no respect for us in return? And when they often take actions that show they believe themselves to be above the law (and normally get away with it)?

I think that by empowering the tyrants we, in turn, empower the criminals to believe themselves to be noble rebels against an injust master.

At 5/27/2006 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

That's an incredible reply Lenny. Residents of Jefferson Parish are only now getting a glimpse of what happens when you allow a guy to run an office for thirty years, feeding at the public trough (uh ... literally), and filling his department with nepotistic hires of people who don't do squat. At least the NOPD has to follow civil service rules (that are thirty years out of date).

The problem in JP, and occasionally in New Orleans, is that shit rolls down hill. If the leadership doesn't respect citizen's rights, and doesn't draw a hard line against abuse, then the entire rank and file follows.

I was just arguing that it shouldn't be an adversarial relationship. Citizens can help the police, and the police should be allowed to "work their beats." But there should be accountability. Police -- and police commanders -- should be held accountable to citizens, and there should be independent and enforceable citizen review of police practices.

At 5/28/2006 05:36:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I agree, transparency is exceptionally important. I think it must be a key component at all levels of government and one of the other big, bad things King George is failing at miserably by constantly classifying more and more documents that have no business being classified and using the Sates Secret Act to shut down dissenting lawsuits against illegal government actions. That guy really scares me.

BTW, that tirade was not at all mean to suggest I have no respect for police officers, I happen to have more than a few friends who are such, I only suggest that there are some in law enforcement who present a prevailing "holier then thou", untouchable attitude that seems to inevitbly alienate the very people they are sworn to protect, the very people who in turn would normally help those officers catch the real crooks. I think the big problem for JP specifically is that a tough talkin' sherrif is something the many conservative folks out here like, even if it makes little real difference and leads to a few innocent folks being treated rather poorly. After all many folks around here feel like they have nothing to hide, to bring in the other topic. ;)


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