Is there any information more vital for you to know than how safe your neighborhood is before you and your family step out of the door each day?
Citizens have a right to this fundamental information. Momentum is building to officially and publicly request that the New Orleans Police Department supply citizens with the raw 911 data each and every day so that citizens can build their own crime mapping, reporting, and alert system.
Later, the same request for raw data will be made of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office or Criminal District Courts to get the Docketmaster records. With these two pieces of information, citizens could be alerted to emerging dangers in their neighborhoods and other places they travel throughout the city. They could also track for themselves, from the initial offense all the way to final disposition, the effectiveness of the D.A. and the courts in prosecuting offenders.
Sunshine is the best disinfectant, not just for cleaning up corrupt or ineffective institutions, but for identifying problems in neighborhoods so that citizens can proactively engage the appropriate tactical resources at solving those problems.
Why should citizens build their own crime reporting system? Because the city already has a system, and it sucks! Here’s just another example of how citizens can and will take charge where government institutions have failed.
A big part of the problem isn’t just that citizens don’t have access to basic information, it’s that they don’t have access to meaningful dialog with public officials. When officials do offer opportunities for dialog, it’s behind closed doors where promises made may soon be ignored or forgotten.
Promises made by NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley to do a walkthrough with Karen Gadbois through her Northwest Carrollton neighborhood were never fulfilled. Despite frequent complaints she made about drug dealing activity out of abandoned homes, the city and NOPD didn’t respond to her complaints until someone was murdered.
Note, as well, the recent announcement by Riley that the NOPD would now focus on violent offenders instead of harrassing “good-quality citizens” in traffic stops:
“We are going to give them warnings and move on,” Riley said. “We are not going to tie our officers up with good-quality citizens who have no arrest records … We have to get our officers back on the streets and focus on hardcore criminals.”
I thought the original intent of the traffic stops was to focus on violent criminals, but that quickly proved not to be the case. I saw for myself a completely illegible traffic ticket issued to an acquaintence. The officer who wrote the ticket didn’t say what the citation was, and didn’t print clearly enough for the carbon transfer to occur. I’ve heard many other cases of poorly-written tickets being issued, or unnecessary citations issued. I’m a supporter of traffic stops. I know this to be an effective tool for catching violent offenders as they move through the city. Unfortunately, the intent of the order to conduct more traffic stops was lost in its execution. While the NOPD absolutely should be issuing citations for drivers who endanger public safety, right now, wasting time writing citations for broken tail lights or expired brake tags might not be the best use of the time of an already depleted and overextended police force. This was a questionable policy which further eroded public confidence in the NOPD. Had Chief Riley actually sat down with citizens, now over two months ago, to listen to their perspectives about an appropriate crime-fighting strategy, he might have arrived at a better policy sooner.
In their announcement of a plan for greater cooperation, published in The Times-Picayune today, Dumb Ass D.A. Eddie Jordan will be more closely cooperating with the NOPD to prosecute offenders. While it’s good to know that the “ice is slowly melting,” I should think citizens deserve more of an opportunity to demand direct accountability to citizens themselves. Instead, conveniently, Riley and Jordan have insulated themselves from the public by calling for the Police and Justice Foundation to monitor the reforms. With only two cases accepted out of 47 arrests on 162 murders for 2006, and with just one prosecution, are we going to have to wait another year to find out Eddie’s prosecution score? Shouldn’t we be entitled to more open information at any time about what’s going on in the D.A.’s office and the court system?
Citizens should have been given an opportunity to make that claim for greater transparency and more direct accountability. Citizens have little reason to trust that the NOPD and D.A.’s office are finally burying the hatchet, and they should be given a more active role in demanding reforms. In fact, it would have helped Warren Riley’s case to have citizens backing him up in the quest for greater accountability out of Eddie Jordan’s office. But no. Once again, the “community policing” strategy is little more than an empty rhetorical flourish.
Today is Freedom of Information Day, the last day of Sunshine Week. This might be an appropriate occasion to think about what information citizens have a right to so that we can accurately monitor how well our public institutions are serving us. The criminal justice system is arguably the most important of our public institutions. Both Warren Riley and Eddie Jordan need to be more forthcoming with the information we need to evaluate both the safety of our neighborhoods, and the efficient functioning of the entire criminal justice system.