Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Triangle of Distraction

Memo to Nagin, Riley and the Times Picayune: Just don't go there. By all means, go to central city. Just, please spare us the embarrassment of claiming that, outside of a few problem areas like "the Triangle of Death," the city doesn't have a crime problem. There might be a kernel of truth to such an assertion, but, in case you hadn't noticed, the international media is paying attention to the New Orleans crime problem. If you try to say that 14 of the the city's 54 murders have occurred in the "triangle of death," one those reporters might ask about the other 40. If you do try that spin, please be careful how you say it, some "baffled outsiders"* might take that to mean that crime is okay in poor or black neighborhoods--it could sound very racist, I'm not trying to inject that element. Some cynics might even wonder how the city realized that it needed help in March if there never was much of a problem to begin with. So, if any of you are considering that spin, it won't work.

In a similar vein, when the plan to bring in the National Guard was announced Monday, Warren Riley blamed the media for the perception that the crime problem was out of control. In April, (I had forgotten until I today's YRHT) he tried to blame the perception on opportunistic politicians--probably less a similarity than an imitation. Also, today's paper says that both Nagin and Riley said that the plan has been in the works since March. On TV Monday night, Nagin said that the request had been put in two weeks ago. By itself, it's a minor inconsistency--I only noticed because Nagin used the statement to make a snide comment about Blanco. I might have misinterpreted it, but it sounded like he thanked the state for responding so quickly since the request had only been made two weeks before.

It's unimportant that Nagin and Riley differed on the details on one item. By itself, it might not be overly important that Nagin would have us believe that he realized the problem was bad enough to demand outside help, while he was telling us that there wasn't a problem. But it would be a problem if the mayor grew (more) smugly, complacent, secure in the knowledge that he could say and do whatever he wanted and nobody would question him about it. Well, because the local media has refused to even spar with Nagin, I'm afraid that the city's going to take a lot more pummeling from the national media (via Schroeder). Sorry, couldn't resist the boxing metaphor.

Finally (probably most importantly), something doesn't seem to add up in the reporting on the NOPD. We keep hearing that the city has lost 300 police officers. That's only about 20% of the pre-Katrina total. Patrols sure seem to be down by more than 20%. It could be that the city lost most of its fleet of patrol cars. If that is the case, I'd certainly wonder what budget priorities come before repairing or replacing those cars. If mayor "turn-around expert" can't find the money, it might be a good idea to open the city's books to someone who can. If that is the problem, that suggestion might be the reason why we haven't heard that detail. There could well be a perfectly good answer, shame nobody asks the question.

*Explaining link seems to have disappeared from the T/P website.

Yes, yes yes! Press on with this line of inquiry.

Perhaps these good questions will finally be asked in the important forums.
I was talking to an NOPD crisis negotiator who lives in the Broadmoor neighborhood a couple of months ago. She insisted that the NOPD has incredible needs that aren't being met, but that no one is speaking up about at a time when the department could probably get anything it asked for. This person I talked to blamed it on a lack of vision. Given that Riley found his way up the ranks by keeping his mouth shut, and speaking diplomatically when he did open it, I'd say he's playing the safe side of things -- which is, arguably, not what we need.
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