Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meanwhile, Crime Is Fought

From the T-P:

More than a dozen of Kendrick Thomas' friends stood outside his house Tuesday afternoon, steps from the spot where he was shot dead the night before.

They hugged, commiserated, and most of all, seethed with anger.

"Why, someone please tell me why, that camera isn't working?" asked Thomas' stepfather, Jimmie Ricks. "A girl got shot right over there weeks ago. Some boys got shot right there. Why is this camera not working?

"Mayor Nagin: Please handle your business, " he pleaded.

But even if crime cameras are operational, and that's been a big if, have the crime cameras helped prosecute any cases?

Crime cameras have been used by the DA's office in about 3 cases out of 12,000 arrests.

On average, since Hurricane Katrina hit the area, police have made roughly 12,000 felony arrests per year. The district attorney's office accepts anywhere between 7,000 to 8,000 of those cases on average.

In a written statement, the district attorney's office told WDSU prosecutors have "utilized" crime camera video in three cases during the last year.

Additionally, the annual cost of maintenance is somehow greater than the cost of the original cameras.

"Unless you can show third-party validation that we'll have 200-plus cameras up and working every day of the year and that they can be used by prosecutors as evidence, I think we're throwing good money after bad," Fielkow said.

Head put the budgetary problem in perspective. She noted the city spent $7,500 maintaining and upgrading each of 240 cameras in 2008 when it only cost $6,240 to purchase and install a brand new camera. At a proposed $1.6 million for 2009, the maintenance and restoration cost would still be higher than buying new cameras, at about $6,600 per unit.

Hurricane Gustav knocked out 100 of the cameras, and Head said the city's current goal is only to restore 200 cameras, which would yield an even higher per-unit maintenance cost. She said she wants to see the budget proposal cut by $1 million, leaving only enough to maintain the current array of cameras, at least until their usefulness can be established.

It would appear that the NOPD has more pressing concerns anyway.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley is embroiled in a controversy after a series of blistering reports about the state of the NOPD evidence room. Conditions have deteriorated to the point that criminal evidence has become damaged. Lax security has lead to the loss or theft of $19,000 in seized drug money. Poor documentation, substandard storage, and the overall lack of basic adherence to legal standards will ruin cases and set scores of alleged criminals free.

And it should.

How could anyone ever convict somebody based on "evidence" kept by this NOPD?

The scandal again calls into question the basic integrity of the criminal justice system, raising concerns even about cases in which prosecutors were able to secure a guilty verdict.

Also at issue is why the NOPD failed to correct the problems at the evidence room after weeks and months of repeated warnings.

Meanwhile, our new District Attorney took office this week and got to his first order of businesses promptly:

Lobbying City Council not to cut $1.3 million from his budget as the Mayor had requested.

Cannizaro now has about a week before he has to go before the New Orleans City Council to ask for more money.

Mayor Ray Nagin's budget proposal does not replace the federal funds now paying for dozens of investigators and clerical workers.

"I understand I need five votes on the council to over-ride the mayor's veto of his refusal to place the $1.3-million in budget which we need in order to keep those 34 employees.

Everything is as it should be, no?


Deon Roberts finds that actually crime cameras don't work anywhere.

Not only do I not want to keep pumping maintenance money into these things. I want to take down what's up and put it up for sale. There are schoolchildren with no textbooks in this city.

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