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Despite fewer murders, N.O. still among Top 5 deadliest U.S. cities

LOUISIANA WEEKLY — Despite closing out 2018 with 145 homicides, the lowest murder total in nearly five decades, New Orleans remains one of the nation’s Top 5 deadliest cities

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By The Louisiana Weekly

Despite closing out 2018 with 145 homicides, the lowest murder total in nearly five decades, New Orleans remains one of the nation’s Top 5 deadliest cities.

Late last month, NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison attributed the drop in violent crime to the use of a Real Time Crime Center that utilizes a network of surveillance cameras across the city, the NOPD’s TIGER program which targets repeat violent offenders and improved police-community relations.

LSU criminologist Dr. Peter Sharf told FOX 8 News that crime cameras and stability in police hierarchy deserve credit for a historic low when it came to murders in 2018.

However he says the city still has a long way to go.

The year 2018 was a year that started out on the wrong foot when it came to murders.

“Much of the carnage this year was in the first two months, and it’s gone down consistently,” said LSU Health criminologist, Peter Scharf, PhD.

For example, Mardi Gras day in February, four people were killed in three separate shootings, Uptown, in the CBD and in Treme, and some were predicting a violent year.

That didn’t happen, and the city’s chronic murder problem settled down.

New Orleans finished out 2018 with 145 murders, a 47-year low, with the murder of Marla Belin, one of the last, and the arrest of Tyrone Fountain last night.

Dr. Scharf says the increased use of crime cameras and technology deserves much of the credit for the overall drop in murders.

“My suspicion in the short term is the cameras, and pro active patrol, the public health things will take a longer time to develop,” said Scharf.

Scharf also credits stability in NOPD leadership, and superintendent Michael Harrison.

“Absolutely, Michael like all of us had a mixed reputation, he’s built a good team, and has a sound strategy,” said Scharf.

Scharf says murders are down nationally, and he cautions, though the trends are good in New Orleans, it is still one of the most violent cities in the country.

“When you look at murder in 2018, New York is 3.5 per 100,000, we’re at 36 or 37, so we’re 10 times more dangerous for violent crime than New York,” said Scharf.

Dr. Scharf says the city has all but abandoned its old goal of 1,600 police officers.

He said crime cameras, and more “intelligent” policing are helping to achieve crime reductions at lower troop strength.

Despite the significant drop in homicides, an analyst notes that the murder rate remains among the nation’s highest.

The 145 homicides in the city in 2018 marked the lowest total since 116 in 1971. It also marked the second drop in a row: from 174 in 2016 to 157 in 2017 and 145 last year.

The murder rate is about 37 per 100,000 residents. That’s at best fourth-highest and might be No. 3, crime analyst and City Council consultant Jeff Asher told The New Orleans Advocate. St. Louis and Baltimore have the highest rates, and either Detroit and New Orleans will be next, he said.

It would take a further significant reduction for New Orleans to drop to No. 5, he said.

New Orleans’ murder rate has been flat for four years, Scharf told WVUE-TV.

“I think we need to try some of these new initiatives, public health approaches and see if we can get it so that New Orleans is kind of like other cities in the United States, it’s not now,” Scharf said. “So the question is, you have pockets of extreme at-risk kids who are armed and they’re in the drug culture – how do you intervene effectively with those kids way prior to anybody shooting anybody?”

New Orleans’ 47-year low in murders was accompanied by a drop of about 28 percent in the number of non-deadly shooting incidents from 2017, the newspaper reported. Armed robberies fell for the third year in a row, and the number of carjackings came down as well in 2018, according to statistics kept by the New Orleans City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee.

Asher said police work could be part of the reasons, but other factors are almost certainly at play.

Violent crime is trending downward nationally, and communities frequently see cooler periods in the wake of a spike in violence, which New Orleans endured when there were about two shootings daily for a year beginning in the middle of 2016.

“We don’t necessarily know what the drivers of gun violence (rates) are from day to day, month to month, or year to year,” Asher said. “More than likely, it’s not a single explanation, but it would be logical to say one of those things could be enforcement.”

Asher also noted that while 2018 saw the fewest murders in New Orleans since 1971, the city had a lower murder rate in 1985, when there were 152 slayings and more than 500,000 residents.

Harrison, who always points out that even a single murder is too many, concedes that plenty of work remains to be done.

But he said he’s optimistic. For one thing, he said, his agency is closing in on substantial compliance with a 492-point federally mandated consent decree aimed at bringing the department up to federal standards for constitutional policing that has improved performance, most notably by slashing the rate at which its 1,200 officers resort to force.

Implementation of the NOPD consent decree began in August 2013.

“The whole city needs to know it was the 1,200 officers who executed (the strategies) and willingly transformed” the agency, Harrison said. “They should recognize it’s the officers who made the culture change, and I’m honored it’s under my leadership.”

This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly

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Bay Area

As Planned Robberies and Thefts Increase, Oakland Officials Grapple for Solutions

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Oakland, “roving caravans” targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail stores and pharmacies throughout Oakland. “At least two dozen businesses were impacted, mostly cannabis operations. Armed individuals exchanged gunfire with police and security guards.

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Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.
Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.

By Post Staff

Police and city officials are struggling to deal with a wave of organized smash-and-grab robberies, shootouts, home invasions, random drive-by shootings and muggings that swept across Bay Area cites over last weekend.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong called the violent crime wave “unprecedented” and said his police force needs the help of elected officials to meet the challenge.

Armstrong said, “We will have tactical teams deployed throughout the city,” to increase safety over the holiday weekend.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the police chief’s boss, has been silent about how her office will step up.

In a video interview, Armstrong said, “What we’ve seen in Oakland is not much different than a lot of cities have seen in this Northern California region: roving robbery caravans, homicides and shootings.”

“We’re not going to tolerate this kind of activity in the City of Oakland. We are going to respond,” to be ready to deal with these roving gangs in the upcoming weekend, he said.

“These individuals who come to the city have been heavily armed, from all throughout the Bay Area,” Armstrong continued. “They are not just people from Oakland. They are groups of people coming to target communities. We will be prepared to address it. We will have extended staffing over the weekend to ensure there are enough resources to address the violent crime.”

After 11:00 p.m. roving caravans have targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail shops and pharmacies throughout the city of Oakland. At least two dozen businesses were impacted, most of them cannabis operations. Armed individuals were shooting at staff and others when they met resistance.

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Oakland, “roving caravans” targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail stores and pharmacies throughout Oakland. “At least two dozen businesses were impacted, mostly cannabis operations. Armed individuals exchanged gunfire with police and security guards.

Other organized groups of thieves targeted stores in San Francisco, Hayward and Walnut Creek.

On Sunday, robbers broke into a jewelry store in a Hayward mall, smashing glass cases and driving off with the valuables. In Walnut Creek, police urged businesses to close early after 80 thieves ransacked a Nordstrom last Saturday night.

In San Francisco, thieves broke into high-end stores in Union Square, including Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s, stealing merchandise worth thousands of dollars.

Oakland City Councilmembers responded quickly to Chief Armstrong’s call for help.

They said they have called a special meeting on December 7 to discuss the violence and underscored their commitment to stopping the violence.

“Absolutely, we are all concerned, and I can attest to that from all councilmembers including the mayor as well, too,” said District 2 Councilmember Sheng Thao, quoted on KGO.

Thao and District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb called for restoring the violence reduction program, Ceasefire, back to where it was before the pandemic.

Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan said the Council is already responding to the post-pandemic crime wave that is surging in many cities. She pointed to new laws to increase funding for tracing and cracking down on illegal guns.

Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.

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Activism

Crime and Homelessness Reach an All-Time High

These depressing findings were recorded in a poll conducted by the Jobs and Housing Coalition (JHC) between October 16 and 18. They mark an all-time high in negative responses when Oakland residents are asked how they feel about the quality of their lives in Oakland and the direction of the city.

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The three most pressing issues that Oakland residents cited were homelessness and crime, which were virtually tied, and the cost of housing/rents which came in third place. No other issue was reported as a double-digit concern.
The three most pressing issues that Oakland residents cited were homelessness and crime, which were virtually tied, and the cost of housing/rents which came in third place. No other issue was reported as a double-digit concern.

Residents Want to Know What Can Be Done About It

By Paul Cobb

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with Greg McConnell who commissioned David Binder Research (President Obama’s polling firm) to find out the issues Oakland voters are concerned with.

Sixty-six percent (66%) of Oakland residents feel that the quality of their lives has gotten worse over the past few years. Sixty-three percent (63%) feel that Oakland is headed in the wrong direction.

Greg McConnell

Greg McConnell

These depressing findings were recorded in a poll conducted by the Jobs and Housing Coalition (JHC) between October 16 and 18. They mark an all-time high in negative responses when Oakland residents are asked how they feel about the quality of their lives in Oakland and the direction of the city.

Negative opinion has reached a new high over the last 10 years according to David Binder Research.

This trend has been steadily rising since 2015, however, the trend erupted in a 10-point leap in negative responses – from 53% to 63% – since last June.

The three most pressing issues that Oakland residents cited were homelessness and crime, which were virtually tied, and the cost of housing/rents which came in third place. No other issue was reported as a double-digit concern.

David Binder

“It would be foolish to overlook the obvious,” said Greg McConnell, president and CEO of JHC. “People believe their quality of life is sinking, and the city is headed in the wrong direction. We cannot not ignore those feelings or dress them up to make them go away. So, our options are either to surrender the city to the current trend of negativity or turn things around.”

The question now, asked McConnell, is how do we turn things around? “The last thing we need are big speeches and proclamations. You fix big problems by focusing on the small parts. My recommendation is to get government working more effectively.”

“Oakland must start doing the small things well,” explained McConnell. “Take the homeless crisis for example. This problem will not be solved with lofty speeches. Addressing mental health and addiction issues must be done one day and one issue at a time. No one gets sober overnight. They build one day on another until they have 24 hours, then 30 days, then years.”

The same is true with shelter for the unhoused. Oakland will not build thousands of housing units in a day. They chip away at the problem by building new units every day until we have a sufficient supply. “Doing little things well will impact the big things greatly,” McConnell continued.

“There will always be big political decisions like whether to fund or defund police, but to make a city better, it’s what we do every day that will make a difference and improve life in Oakland”, said McConnell. “If we operate government like government is supposed to operate and if government focuses on small things day by day, resident negativity, depression, and pessimism will fade away.”

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Bay Area

OPINION: Is Travis Scott to Blame for Astroworld?

Festival seating is when the entire venue becomes a mosh pit. It’s a concert where there are no assigned seats, making it a Darwinian every-person-for-himself, go-at-your-own-risk event. The nightmarish, mad rush that occurred at NRG Park at Travis Scott’s hip-hop Astroworld on November 5 was a foreseen possibility, especially since the artist’s encouraging a crowd surge is part of his act.

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Already more than a dozen civil suits have been filed against the concert promoters, which includes Live Nation and Scott himself. Eight people were killed including Danish Baig, 27, born near Dallas, an Asian American Pakistani and a district manager for AT&T, who went with his fiancé to the show.
Already more than a dozen civil suits have been filed against the concert promoters, which includes Live Nation and Scott himself. Eight people were killed including Danish Baig, 27, born near Dallas, an Asian American Pakistani and a district manager for AT&T, who went with his fiancé to the show.

By Emil Guillermo

I grew up in the Bay Area and attended “Days on the Green” at the Coliseum. But I started going to rock concerts in earnest when I was a teenager in Houston. I had taken a gap year from college and was the all-night DJ on the biggest rock station in town. Whenever I saw “festival seating” on a ticket, I knew it was more than just a warning, but an invitation to disaster.

Festival seating is when the entire venue becomes a mosh pit. It’s a concert where there are no assigned seats, making it a Darwinian every-person-for-himself, go-at-your-own-risk event. The nightmarish, mad rush that occurred at NRG Park at Travis Scott’s hip-hop Astroworld on November 5 was a foreseen possibility, especially since the artist’s encouraging a crowd surge is part of his act.

In Houston, the crowd was so packed, witnesses described how they couldn’t move. Then someone would fall, and the domino pile would begin.

For some, it became an “I can’t breathe moment.”

Eight people were killed including Danish Baig, 27, born near Dallas, an Asian American Pakistani and a district manager for AT&T, who went with his fiancé to the show.

He didn’t expect to die in the crush of people as he tried to save his fiancé from being trampled.

“She was stomped on, hit, punched, horrendous things were happening to her that I don’t want to mention,” said Basil Mirza Baig, Baig’s brother, who was also at the concert. “My brother was trying to save her, and he did, he saved her, and it cost him his life.”

At this time no precise cause of death is given. But the family said it was from cardiac arrest suffered from the crush of people.

The fiancé survived. But Mirza, speaking at Baig’s funeral on Sunday wants answers.

“My brother was laying on the ground. They were chanting to stop the event. Nobody stopped the event,” Mirza said in an interview with Dallas news station WFAA. “In this horrendous event, people that were in it (who) took part in this event, Travis Scott’s team, the NRG team, everybody who was associated with this should be held accountable for the lives that were lost today. We’re grieving. We’re in pain.”

Mirza wants answers, not a Tweet, but real answers from Scott.

“He could stop a show for his shoe, but he couldn’t stop the show for people?” Mirza asked. Reports say Scott performed for at least another 30 minutes after an emergency had been declared. “It was upsetting and sad seeing people thrown left and right, stop, girls, guys, everybody, little kids,” Mirza described the scene. “This is not how you do it. You go to a concert to have fun. You don’t go to a concert to die.”

Already more than a dozen civil suits have been filed against the concert promoters, which includes Live Nation and Scott himself. This is not the first time for Scott, who has faced criminal charges related to inciting concert crowds in Arkansas in 2018 (guilty, disorderly conduct), and Chicago in 2015 (guilty, misdemeanor reckless conduct).

Live Nation, too, should have known better. When the word “festival” is on the ticket, there are no seats, forcing crowds to compete for a stage view, and then a fun night becomes Darwinian, the survival of the fittest.

That’s not entertainment.

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