Outraged over persistent violence that seemed to threaten New Orleans’ recovery after Hurricane Katrina, as many as 3,000 people took to the streets a year ago today in a protest march on City Hall that galvanized citizen response to crime and focused attention on a fractured criminal justice system, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. As 2008 dawns, officials and activists can see broader community participation on crime issues, including new neighborhood watch groups sprouting up and volunteers sitting in on court hearings to track the progress of particular cases.
Violent crime certainly hasn’t abated. Murders on New Orleans streets continued at a high rate in 2007, ending the year with 209 dead, a figure that again propels the city to the top of lists of the most murderous urban areas. Six people have been killed in 2008, compared with nine victims at this point last year. Changes in the criminal justice system have been incremental, with the biggest shifts perhaps at the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office, where former DA Eddie Jordan bowed to public pressure this fall and resigned amid continued criticism of his leadership. Efforts to change the police department are difficult to measure, as some neighborhood groups applaud improved interactions with commanders at local district stations, while others continue to hear reports of violent crime incidents slipping through the cracks. A major area of concern remains the NOPD’s failure to provide the public with prompt, systematic access to initial incident reports, which are public record under state law.