The first days of 2007 were filled with numerous reports of murders in New Orleans, with the number of those killed reaching in the double digits even before the second week of the year had concluded. One shooting even occurred as the victim was holding his two-year-old son and watched as his Harvard-educated wife was gunned down.
New Orleans’ murder rate in 2003 was nearly eight times the national average - and since then, the murder rate has continued to increase. In 2002 and 2003, New Orleans had the highest per capita city homicide rate in the United States, with 59 people killed per year per 100,000 citizens - compared to New York City’s seven. In 2006, despite a population decrease stemming from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 161 killings still occurred in the Crescent City.
The problem of crime is not a new one, nor is it a problem that is limited to major urban areas like New Orleans. The first five minutes of local newscasts - whether you are in Shreveport, Monroe, Lake Charles or anywhere in between - recaps the violent crimes, robberies and drug arrests that have occurred in the last 24 hours that are placing a stranglehold on our communities.
Criminals are more daring than ever before
Criminals are getting more daring and are willing to strike during any time of the day. Earlier this month a successful professional in Baton Rouge was walking to her car during broad daylight on a rainy afternoon at a local grocery store when she was confronted by a man and woman brandishing a gun. Luckily, she was not injured, but her story is a good reminder that while we cannot be a captive to these types of events, we should remain vigilant of our surroundings and work together to combat this growing trend.
Once thought to be only a problem in our nation's largest cities, violent crime and gangs have invaded smaller communities, as witnessed by the recent shooting in the town of Maringouin located in Iberville Parish, where three reported criminal gangs exist. Across the state in 2005, Louisiana endured 26,889 violent crimes, 450 murders, and 19,681 aggravated assaults. This places Louisiana's crime rate about 24 percent higher than the national average rate.
Although not all criminal activity can be linked to the rise in gang violence, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that there are currently over 25,000 active gangs in more than 3,000 jurisdictions in the United States. More and more communities are suffering from gang type violence where all too often innocent bystanders are tragically shot, and law-abiding members of communities are prisoners in their own homes in fear of being caught in the cross-fire of gang violence. These gangs are also introducing our youth to dangerous illegal drugs in many of these communities.
I’ve got a plan that will help reduce crime
To help fight this problem I have introduced legislation that will establish joint task forces of federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors so they can share resources and intelligence to help target the most serious gangs in a community. For Louisiana, this means encouraging full interaction and communication beyond parish lines between law enforcement, prosecution, Clerks of Court, judges, corrections, and homeland security.
The bill would create guidelines to designate High Intensity Gang Areas in these communities and authorize Federal funding to help combat gang activity, as well as help states hire prosecutors and purchase technology, equipment and training for gang enforcement.
But many times once these criminals are caught and released they will move to another part of the state and begin all over again. For 36 years, Louisiana has been trying to put together a database to track criminals, arrests, prosecutions, and convictions.
Tracking lawbreakers - it’s not as easy as you think
As hard as it is to believe, there currently is no comprehensive system to track offenders from the time of arrest through to disposition. This type of system would have been very valuable in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when FEMA refused to share information with local authorities on whether any evacuees staying at shelters or FEMA-run trailer parks had a past history of sexually violating innocent children.
These criminals are guilty of the most despicable crime possible and we must do more to protect our children from these dangerous criminals. Congress, with my support, has passed a bill to make sure that this mistake is not made again and requires the agency to share with local law enforcement officials any information on sexual offenders who might be residing in these temporary living arrangements.
This database would also help law enforcement officers have vital information they need when confronting a possible criminal. For example, if a sex offender is released by the Orleans Parish criminal justice system and is later pulled over blocks from an elementary school in Bossier City, this database will give law enforcement officers detailed information on the offender's past arrests and crimes that was previously unavailable.
Louisiana can become a model for the nation by having the first fully-integrated automated criminal justice information system. The key to implementing this thirty-year-old effort is to provide funding to the key reporting agencies, particularly the District Attorneys, to help establish this type of system. The project should also facilitate the completion of systems for law enforcement and courts, and assure interoperability between the various systems.
In light of this goal, my legislation authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to award grants to state and local programs for the specific purpose of designing and establishing a statewide database to track criminals, arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. With Louisiana receiving such a grant, a database that law enforcement agencies have sought for more than three decades would finally be established and play an important role in protecting our children and communities from established criminals. No single group can solve the crime problem alone. Our country was able to begin breaking up organized crime years ago only when Federal, state and local governments worked together to utilize each other's resources. My legislation helps establish that working relationship again. Only through that coordinated effort, as well as the efforts of ordinary citizens watching and taking action in their neighborhoods, will we take back our communities and tackle the current crime problem in Louisiana.