City Council

Newell: Political gamesmanship distorting domestic violence debate

NOPD and DA's office both underfunded and understaffed - time for NO City Council to put the money where their mouth is

Newell Normand
December 05, 2019 - 5:03 pm

A committee of the New Orleans City Council received a report yesterday relating to domestic violence cases in the city and in response, two councilmembers had sharp criticism for District Attorney Leon Canizzarro. To better understand the underlying issues and the best approaches moving forward, Newell invited Kim Sport and Charmaine Caccioppe from the United Way of Southeast Louisiana to the program Thursday morning, as well as Mary Claire Landry, Executive Director for the New Orleans Family Justice Center.

“The report suggests a number of these domestic violence cases are falling through the cracks here,” Newell began. “What’s the root cause of all this?”

“When you see a report that says over 3,500 cases are being dismissed in municipal court, it raises a number of questions,” Sport answered. “If a victim finally has the courage to come forward, dial 911 or show up at a police station to report the crime of domestic abuse, we think that abuse has probably been going on for more than that one incident. It takes tremendous courage to do that. The last thing we want to see, as advocates, is these cases to be simply dismissed and the alleged perpetrators sent home, where they have an opportunity to retaliate against the victim who reported them.”

“The report is an outcome. It’s the what, not the why,” Newell said. “Why do we get to these outcomes? What’s missing in the law, what is it we’re missing from an organizational standpoint, whether that’s the prosecutor, the police department, or is it a combination of factors that run across the entire system?”

Landry responded, “After being in this work for decades, a lot of these misdemeanor cases are very difficult to prosecute and meet the criteria for a criminal charge. If we’re not going to prosecute them, don’t send a message to the community that we’re going to be hard on domestic violence and then have absolutely no accountability for perpetrators. I would say, let’s take the money that we’re using to investigate and put the resources into an alternative intervention model where we’re at least taking some action to address the family systems issues that’s causing these misdemeanor cases, then use the criminal justice system’s limited resources to prosecute the really high-risk cases like strangulation and use of a weapon, where we can hold batterers accountable. It’s very clear the criminal justice system is not capable of handling these cases.”

“My perspective is, we know that NOPD and the DA’s office are underfunded and understaffed,” Newell said. “We gotta put our money where our mouth is! The DA isn’t the funding arm, the NOPD isn’t the funding arm. So when I hear a councilperson say ‘why even bother calling the police, why did I just risk my life as a police officer responding to a domestic violence case,’ I find that obnoxious! Because we’re sending these officers on every other type of call that’s equally as dangerous, but yet, we try to single out a player in the criminal justice system based on an outcome study. We’re not sitting down talking about the root cause analysis.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Caccioppe said. “As a funder, United Way is making incredible investments in domestic violence, and advocacy and policy. You and I both know it. When you were the Sheriff of Jefferson Parish, we asked you to give us the information so that we could build a compelling multi-discipline collaborative that could go to the State Capitol and say ‘this is what we need to do and why.’ This is clearly what needs to happen. We need the resources, we need the collaboration and we need effective input if we’re going to move the needle on this.”

“These same councilmembers have been critical of the DA for being an aggressive prosecutor,” Newell continued, “But for whatever reason that goes out of the window when it might be their favored crime that they want to have aggressively prosecuted. It doesn’t work that way! There needs to be a systemic, consistent, consolidated approach to arrest and prosecution in any jurisdiction, and the ones that have been successful in these types of cases have been consistent in their approach. This fragmented approach, this ambush mentality, is a problem. What I know as a law enforcement guy, these are some of the most difficult cases to make. In order to bring corroborative evidence to the DA when you have a non-compliant victim, we need to get real and not politicize these things for the sake of whatever the political will is. I find that very distasteful.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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