NOPD makes 60,000 arrests in 2009 www.privateofficer.com
New Orleans police is still focusing too many resources on minor arrests, according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
That’s what a new Metropolitan Crime Commission analysis of last year’s statistics shows, and it’s evidence that the department under the leadership of Warren Riley was spending a lot of time and energy on minor crime, a troubling trend for a city plagued by violence.
Share Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who has promised to reduce violent crime, cautioned against dismissing some offenses as petty. In some cases, a person’s misdemeanor misbehavior might be “the problem in that neighborhood,” he said.
But while the police department should be responsive to the public, it’s worrisome when arrests for felonies aren’t budging but traffic arrests are going through the roof. That’s what happened in 2009. Then-Superintendent Riley made good on a promise to reduce arrests on municipal charges — offenses like public drunkenness and disturbing the peace. But arrests for traffic offenses shot up by 3,000, accounting for nearly 10,000 arrests in 2009.
Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the crime commission, criticized pursuing quantity over quality. When police officers spend an hour or two taking someone to jail for an expired driver’s license or public urination, he said, they aren’t out on the street to respond to more serious offenses. Police should issue tickets or summonses in cases where it is appropriate, he said, and that’s certainly a more efficient approach.
Arresting people for traffic or other minor warrants from other parishes, something that the New Orleans Police Department has historically spent a lot of time doing, is especially wasteful. Those jurisdictions often refuse to use their resources to pick up those who were arrested. Instead, they tell the Orleans Parish Prison to release them with a summons.
The state Legislature addressed that situation, adopting a measure that gives police officers the discretion to issue new court summonses. While the law already provided that option for many non-violent minor cases, a legal opinion from former state Attorney General Charles Foti said that officers “have to bring that person to jail.” Some agencies, including the NOPD, were guided by that opinion, even though it was non-binding. Superintendent Serpas said that the legislative change will help.
“We are talking about tens of thousands of manhours that could be redirected to more productive endeavors,” Mr. Goyeneche said. That’s a welcome change, and future arrest statistics should reflect it.