Saturday, April 19, 2008

So It Goes: Helplessness, Frustration, Anger, and a Call for the Immediate Resignation of NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley

One of the most tragic events that has ever occurred in New Orleans was the murder of teacher, musician, father, and leader Dinneral Shavers of Hot 8 Brass Band. This occurred three days after Christmas in 2006.

His murder contributed a tipping point. Citizen outrage over the sad state of New Orleans criminal justice lead to a massive mobilization of thousands upon City Hall.

Citizens demanded accountability from Mayor Ray Nagin, District Attorney Eddie Jordan, and Police Superintendent Warren Riley.

The Mayor's solution was to call for help.

The city received more state and national guard patrols.

DA Eddie Jordan secured one murder conviction out of the 162 killings that occurred in the year preceding the march.

It took nearly two more years, a $3.5 million lawsuit loss against his office, widespread reports of incompetence, confusion, and an inability to work with the police department to create winnable cases, and a local crime rate that remains amongst the nation's highest before he resigned. Oh, and I forgot the time he gave refuge to an armed robbery suspect at his girlfriend's house.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley still hold their jobs.

This week, David Bonds was acquitted for the murder of Dinneral Shavers.

Unfortunately, the reasons for that acquittal are painfully clear.

Blatant witness intimidation ruined this case.

In the end, the prosecution had only one witness willing to identify the defendant as the shooter.

Bonds' public defender had an easy time raising reasonable doubts in the minds of jurors. The case had been effectively castrated.

After the acquittal, on April 17th, one of the witnesses who recanted their original testimony, was shot to death in a drive-by. He was 20 years old. His name was Guy McEwen.

The NOPD now believes that this had nothing to do with the trial. To me, it makes little difference. The damage was already done, he had recanted his story in a trial besieged by intimidation.

This is a tragedy for the whole city on so many levels.

We have all be deprived of justice for the murder of a favorite son. We have lost another young neighbor to yet another senseless murder. The perpetrators still roam the streets uncaught. Our flimsy crime fighting tools have been exposed.

And perhaps most vexing, one can't help but be rendered entirely helpless.

What can we do?

Our new DA Keva Landrum-Johnson is, by all accounts, a drastic improvement over Eddie Jordan. But what can she do?

Witness protection and intimidation is a problem all over the country and has been endemic in New Orleans before and after Katrina.

The relationship between local police forces and citizens from crime-stricken neighborhoods has been dialectic for decades for reasons that lay blame at the feet of both sides. Stop snitching campaigns against reporting crimes have become a norm. This discourages witnesses from ever coming forward, let alone standing strong against overt intimidation.

Even successful attempts for federal help for local witness protection efforts represent a drop in the bucket. ("two security assistance professionals") For the family of Mr. Shavers, these efforts were tragically late.

I don't think anyone expects there to be any one policy or person or event to make a drastic reduce our city's crime rate. There are too many problems that confront urban communities. There is history, there is poverty, there is the prison-industrial complex, there is the War on Drugs, there is culture, there is anger, there is desperation, there is so on, and there is so forth.

There is little we can do in the short term to change all of that. And it's frustrating. It makes me feel helpless and sad.

But there is something that we ought to change right away.

There is the NOPD.

I've met some of my local officers and I actually think that they're pretty on top of their stuff. They know how to carry out their missions. I think they should earn more money. They've got an almost impossible job and I'm sorry that there is so much mistrust between them and some of our neighbors.

The issue we have is with NOPD leadership.

We have an issue with Police Superintendent Warren Riley.

We have a situation where the murder rate remains amongst the highest in the country. The word amongst may even be charitable as there are plenty that would dispute the population estimates that the NOPD uses to calculate crime rates.

But I understand that there are lots of reasons for crime and not all of them can be affected by the police department.

What we cannot ever excuse, however, is the lack of accountability. It is patterned, it is disturbing, and it affects more than the Times-Picayune's ability to get quotes.

(In no particular order)

Slap in the face No. 1:

The NOPD's public information office did not respond to requests for interviews, and did not provide a tally of nonfatal shootings this year, a figure that typically dwarfs the number of murders.

Slap in the face No. 2:

The Times-Picayune filed a lawsuit Friday against the New Orleans Police Department, alleging that the department has failed to provide a long list of public records requested by the newspaper and routinely delays the release of initial incident reports intended to promptly inform the public about crime in the city.

The suit, filed in Civil District Court, outlines six written requests for records made between Dec. 18 and March 4 by two reporters and an editor at the paper in accordance with the Louisiana Public Records Act. The case has been allotted to Civil District Judge Kern Reese, and a hearing is set for May 23.

Slap in the face No. 3:

At the beginning of the year, as murders spiked and public outcry reached an apex, the New Orleans Police Department announced that a high-profile consultant would come to town to assess a police force struggling to control crime and overcome internal struggles.

The exercise produced a 188-page reform blueprint, which the department made public in July as police leaders vowed to "professionalize" operations. Police Superintendent Warren Riley assured he would act quickly on the recommendations, which relied on "community policing" strategies.

But the final product gave no clue as to the department's current state: NOPD brass and consultants had edited out a slew of findings by the consultants and the department's own officers, who pointed out systemic weaknesses. Rather, the document reads like a list of sound practices for starting a department from scratch: posing solutions to problems never identified.

There is a pattern of secrecy here. Why?

Why can't we know the truth about our crime rate?
Why can't we know how the department spends its money?
Why can't we know what policies inform police practices?

Here and here I have described a discrepancy between what the NOPD says about community policing practices and what the NOPD does to actually implement community policing practices. Lots of citizens have suggested ways to improve the relationship between the police department and the communities they struggle to protect.

Mayor Nagin, the time is now to find your friend Warren Riley a better paying job in the private sector.

Mr. Riley, the time is now for you to spend more time at home with your family.

The NOPD needs new leadership. It needs accountability. It needs a real effort to implement the community policing practices that were largely applauded during Chief Pennington's reign in the 1990s.

Why do we have one of the highest nonviolent drug arrest rates in the country?
Why do we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the country?

Why do we still have a crime epidemic?

Why won't you answer questions? Why won't you release documents?

There will never be justice without accountability. We will never begin to confront the entrenched issues that contribute to people committing crimes without a police department that will tell us the truth about what we face. Give us a police department that will create citizen crime boards.

The city marched in January, 2007. Since then, the NOPD brass remain just as secretive. New Orleans still needs basic accountability in the department.

The change must start at the top.
Or we can just type 'so it goes' every other day into perpetuity.


oyster said...

What can I say, other than "hear, hear!"

This was one of the worst consequences of re-electing Nagin two years ago. He is convinced Warren Riley is the best person to be NOPD Chief.

kfoz said...

Actually, two girls identified him as the shooter in court. But one of the two turned away in the moment the gun was shot. Some reporters described this as being "unable to identify him as the shooter".