Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
A perceived uptick in violent crime has the French Quarter begging for more police.
Whether the murder rate in New Orleans is actually on a downward trend is up for debate. As Sarah Goodyear reported last week, the last few years have seen small dips in the numbers, but it's too early to tell if it's a significant change.
Less debatable is the police department's scant manpower. The chronically understaffed NOPD has long been criticized for their lack of visibility on the street and slow response times. And a perceived uptick in assaults over the last two months has some residents taking crime prevention into their own hands.
French Quarter neighbors, fed up with recent armed robberies posting signs warning visitors to walk in large groups. pic.twitter.com/Vgq9HTTT0Q— Paul Murphy (@PMurphyWWL) December 29, 2014
“Caution: Walk in large groups. We <3 NOPD. We just need more,” say the brightly colored, block-lettered signs, 20 or so of which popped up in the French Quarter this past weekend. They're the inventions of Stephanie and Lee Larrieu, native residents of the tourist-heavy neighborhood. Their home is just yards from the location of a non-fatal stabbing and robbery that took place on December 17, the latest in what many Quarter dwellers describe as a rise in malicious assaults since state troopers pulled out of the neighborhood in late October. A hundred such officers had been stationed there on patrol since July, following an incident when gunmen opened fire on Bourbon Street, killing one and wounding nine.
But now that the troopers are gone, the pressure is back on NOPD—and for the Larrieus, the sage advice is to travel in numbers. "We wanted [the signs] to be neutral, not political. We didn’t want to blame anyone,” Stephanie Larrieu told the New Orleans Advocate. “Right now it’s unsafe to walk around, and we need more police presence so we’re not being attacked by these little thugs.”
Another recent attack in the neighborhood included a group of five people allegedly beating and robbing a man early Christmas morning.
In a press conference Monday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu responded to the signs by indicating that other NOLA neighborhoods are statistically much heavier with crime. Still, he said, the overall crime rate hasn't seen even the modest drops that the murder rate has in the last couple of years. Landrieu agreed that NOPD needs manpower, and pointed to his recruitment efforts for the department and his budgeting for new academy classes next year. “We need more people to be in the Police Department,” Landrieu said. “Anybody in this city who is looking for a job, we’ve got them.”