Three times this summer, armed robbers hit New Orleans restaurants or bars. For a city reliant on tourism, the idea that diners might get held up between the appetizer and entree was a big problem, says the Washington Post. The robberies highlighted an unsettling truth in the Big Easy: There are not enough cops. “It's open season on criminal opportunity,” said Peter Scharf, a Louisiana State University criminologist. The ranks of police in New Orleans have dwindled since Hurricane Katrina, from 1,500 to 1,134, a 24 percent drop. City officials blame federal and local budget cuts, as well as a Justice Department consent decree that in 2013 ordered major reforms that the city is struggling to implement. The city did not hire any officers between 2010 and 2012, when police were leaving the city at the rate of about 150 a year. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has budgeted $10.5 million to hire 150 officers next year. The department has raised officer pay and streamlined the hiring process.
Still, the negative spotlight on law enforcement after last year's fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has made recruitment tough nationwide. It will take nearly two years to get the New Orleans department back to full capacity. Violent crime is on the rise, jumping 45 percent between 2010 and 2014. In this year’s first nine months, homicides jumped 15 percent. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says New Orleans is one of only five major U.S. cities where homicide rates have soared this year. Scharf said crime is migrating to wealthier parts of town because criminals understand that the likelihood of being caught is low. “Would you rather take on an armed dope dealer who is obviously armed, or some gentrified souls who are probably not armed and probably have more money?” he said. “The question is one of rational opportunity.”