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Newell: City Council must take lead on youth crime wave

Newell Normand
February 19, 2020 - 4:49 pm

Car burglaries and other crimes largely committed by juveniles continue to nag at New Orleans neighborhoods. The City Council has divided themselves into smaller committees to take on different aspects of this crisis, and they’ve brought a lot of new information and ideas to the forefront. City Councilmember-At-Large Jason Williams came into the studio with Newell on Wednesday morning to discuss.

“You hired Jeff Asher, the crime analyst, who used to do work for me, and he’s good at what he does - one of the best,” Newell began. “He reported to you yesterday on car burglaries in the neighborhoods. What did he find and what was your reaction?”

“The good thing about Jeff is that he’s very specific,” Williams said. “I’ve been going to neighborhood association meetings, hearing from people about their experience, and being able to tie that to real data coming out of juvenile court about who’s being arrested, who’s been arrested more than once… it allowed us Councilmembers to look at a really finite number and realize just how many of those are the repeat offenders, so we can be strategic. One thing I brought up is that a lot of times we think we know what’s going on with a kid, but we don’t really know until we listen to them. It puts a finer point on what’s going on.”

“Some neighborhoods have reported over a 100% increase in vehicle break-ins and I think that’s brought about the human cry in the neighborhoods,” Newell continued. “I asked Judge Doherty earlier this week - have y’all met as a system, all the players, to develop a template about what everyone's doing, where, why, when, how is it paid for. I put the judge on the spot and he says those meetings haven't happened, and he didn’t feel very confident that they would happen in the next couple of months. I believe that has to be a council-led initiative. The momentum has to be maintained by you, the seven members of the council.”

“You’re right,” Williams said. “What came out of our last Criminal Justice Committee meeting is that we wouldn’t do another one of those, we are going to have a special Council meeting because this affects every district. We’re going to convene the Juvenile Court judges, the DA, the public defenders, service providers, and invite people from other parishes that are doing great work… the meeting you’re talking about has to happen and we’re going to do it at a special council meeting with everybody there. It’s probably going to long, might be some yelling, some robust conversation, but it’s crazy that this has never happened, and you can see it in our fragmented responses.”

“As you exercise more and more of your oversight authority, how are you going to resolve these issues of underfunding, undermanning, pressure to have new departments to address new issues… why are we looking to spend dollars in other places when the money is just not there for primary services?” Newell asked.

“It’s okay to be aspirational and look forward and think about what you want to do,” Williams answered. “But like any homeowner, before you put in a fancy soundsystem, you’ve got to make sure your plumbing, your electrical, the basic infrastructure needs are being met, and right now they’re not. That’s not due to any particular administration, that’s just due to years of neglect. I plan to focus on civil service reform. People have to do a good job at work, and when you don’t have a way to deal with bad employees, you’re hurting good employees. Whether it's Safety and Permits or anything else, that's the only way to make government work. People are depending on the government to work, I don't think people thought they would have to picket at City Hall to make sure they had basic services, but there’s been a number of administrations where we’ve allowed basic things to go unattended.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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