The US Department of Justice has since last summer cooperated with the New Orleans Police Department to end a pattern of discriminatory policing and excessive force that has driven a wedge between the communities enduring the violence and the police ordered to patrol the streets.
But perhaps more critically, Mayor Mitch Landrieu late last year launched the city’s newest and arguably most dramatic anti-violence effort, in part by opening a slew of new youth centers, but also by reorganizing the city’s anti-gang taskforce under a new philosophy: single out the most violence-prone members of various neighborhoods and use historical arrest data to help build conspiracy charges around them and their crews.
Last week, the new unit announced its largest bust so far, the indictment of 15 members of a violent street gang involved in several street murders, including the killing of a 5-year-old girl last year.
The murder rate was down slightly in 2012, to 193, and the rate has slowed in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the year before, police say.
“It’s not that I don’t think the new strategies are working, but it’s just that there’s still people out there, like the people involved in this, who don’t read the paper, they’re not getting the message,” says Harper.
Sunday’s mass shooting suspects fit perfectly the kind of criminals the city authorities have begun to target under the new policy, says a consultant to the project, David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College in New York.
“As information is coming out about the suspect and the shooting, he is also straight down the middle of what we now know drives this stuff: known to the police, extensive criminal record, and it’s nearly certainly going to turn out that he’s involved with others just like himself in some form of drug crew or gang,” says Mr. Kennedy, who is also director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College.
While the push in New Orleans is to convince criminal gangs “that the game has changed profoundly,” it’s also to assure residents that complaints and testimony will result in convictions.