Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in The New Orleans Advocate on July 12, 2017.     

Twelve years ago I looked out over the city of New Orleans, most of it under water, and wondered if we could come back.  We did, thanks to our own resolve and a lot of help from our fellow Americans.

Now New Orleans faces another crisis of Katrina-like proportions: crime.

Thirteen people were shot in a 24-hour period on June 3.  Days later, four people were robbed in the Garden District by a thug wearing a black bandana and brandishing a silver handgun.  The victims were minding their own business, returning from dinner at one of our city's iconic restaurants.  The robbery was one of 21 armed robberies that weekend.

And, by now, everyone has seen the June 24 graphic video of the brutal French Quarter mugging that occurred at 9 p.m. in the well-lit, well-traveled 200 block of Bienville Street.  People in the nation's capital have even asked me about it.

We're a little more than six months into 2017, and 350 people have already been shot in New Orleans.  That's an increase of almost 60 percent over last year.  And if you haven't been robbed, consider yourself lucky.

Crime is stealing the soul of New Orleans.  It's choking the life and livelihood out of it.  I used to live in New Orleans, and now I'm a little scared to go for a walk there.

Something needs to be done.  Our mayor seems pre-occupied with other things and other ambitions.

Here's what we need to do.

First, the mayor and City Council need to reverse the effects of the hiring freeze that depleted the ranks of the New Orleans Police Department.  For three years now the mayor has been vowing to hire 150 new cops a year.  He hasn't even come close.  The city's operating budget is $614 million a year, up from $497 million five years ago, while population growth has been flat.  Public safety should be our city's top spending priority, not an afterthought.

Second, we should listen to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who has warned that our city "has crafted a criminal justice policy that has repeatedly placed politics above public safety."  Maybe the DA's candor is why city leadership cut his budget $600,000 this year, eliminating more than 10 positions and withdrawing investigators from murder scenes.  Talk about doubling down on stupid! Cannizzaro's help has been repeatedly rejected, and the DA himself has been ridiculed, when in fact he should be put in charge along with the NOPD superintendent, who himself has been hamstrung by politicians.

Third, city leadership should ask for help. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff James Pohlmann, Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Gerald Turlich Jr. and other local law enforcement officials might be willing to help if they were asked.  They know a thing or two about fighting crime.

Finally, a stop-question-and-frisk program should be implemented to help get the criminals, the dope and the illegal guns off the streets.  Mayor Rudy Giuliani (a Republican) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (a Democrat turned Independent) used it to clean up New York City.  The U.S. Supreme Court approved stop-question-and-frisk, sometimes called a stop-and-frisk, in 1968 in a case called Terry v. Ohio.  The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court held, allows a police officer to stop, question and, if necessary, frisk a suspect without probable cause to arrest if the officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe the suspect has committed or is about to commit a crime.

Stop-and frisk is not racial profiling, as some say.  "Reasonable suspicion" is a legal, objective standard taught every day in police academies.  Besides, the New Orleans Police Department is one of the most diverse police forces in the country, and I don't believe every NOPD cop is a racist. The politicians should let the NOPD do its job.

We can reclaim the streets of New Orleans, but not unless the city's leadership changes course.  If you always do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.