Is the French Quarter safer with the State Police and French Quarter Patrol supplementing NOPD? It is such a simple question, but any attempt to answer it is challenging due to the complexity of the issue. Ultimately, analyzing the available data provides no evidence of an overall crime reduction in the French Quarter although there are definitely areas that have seen improvement. Adding these elements, however, have likely assisted with replacing NOPD’s manpower losses and may have been helped prevent French Quarter crime from rising.
French Quarter crime since 2011 can be analyzed using publicly available Calls for Service data from the City of New Orleans. These data sets breaks down all calls by NOPD district, and from there I teased out calls which occurred only in the Quarter. I then further broke down French Quarter Calls for Service by those that are fall under the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part I category. These include only the most serious person and property crimes: homicide, assault, robbery, rape, arson, burglary, theft and auto theft.
The State Police were assigned to the French Quarter full time from July to early November 2014 and then again from the beginning of Mardi Gras season 2015 to present though there was a small gap in State Police presence after Mardi Gras 2015 before they returned full time. The French Quarter patrol began in late March 2015 and continues to this day.
The below chart measures the number of Calls for Service over 90 days for a UCR crime with a ‘Report to Follow’ (RTF) disposition in the French Quarter. In this way Calls for Service is an excellent measure of crime trends as there’s a very strong correlation between the two.
If French Quarter crime were down it should be easily seen on this chart. The chart does suggest crime dipped from the beginning of 2015 until the end of summer but the chart also shows crime rising since mid-2015. Overall this chart shows French Quarter crime has sloped gradually upward since 2013. This chart also shows a more dramatic bump in crime over Mardi Gras than any of the past few years.
It’s not quite an open and shut case, however, for a few reasons.
One problem in analyzing French Quarter crime trends is that NOPD changed the way it reported crime beginning on January 1, 2014. An October 2013 Inspector General report found NOPD was improperly categorizing potentially stolen wallets as either ‘Miscellaneous’ or ‘Lost or Stolen’ rather than ‘Theft’. The former two are not counted as UCR crimes whereas the latter is. NOPD agreed with this finding and began categorizing many of those incidents as ‘Theft by Fraud’, a crime not counted in UCR.
It is unclear what effect the policy change has had on crime reporting on the French Quarter as it is not clear the degree to which NOPD is identifying crimes that may have been considered ‘Lost or Stolen’ from 2011 to 2013 as ‘Theft’ in 2014 and 2015. Theft in the French Quarter makes up over 40 percent of overall UCR crime there, and theft has risen steadily since 2011. Non-Theft UCR crimes have also risen since 2011 though at a slower rate as shown in the below table. It is possible that part of the rising crime in the French Quarter in 2014 and 2015 is due to NOPD more accurately describing these types of crime though there’s no way to know for sure.
Another major problem with analyzing whether French Quarter crime is up or down revolves around response times. NOPD’s response time to crimes citywide skyrocketed from early 2015 through October, before falling in the last few months. As response times went up so did the percentage of crimes being identified as ‘unfounded’ resulting in an artificial deflation of crime statistics.
The relationship between the number of crimes and the percentage of incidents being identified deemed ‘unfounded’ can be clearly seen below. The blue line represents the number of UCR crimes in the French Quarter over 90 days while the blue line represents the percentage of Calls for Service for UCR crimes that were deemed either ‘Unfounded’ or ‘Gone on Arrival’.
Crime rose in the Quarter in 2014 as the percentage of crimes deemed unfounded dipped from 30% to just over 20%. Crime then fell in the middle of 2015 as the unfounded percentage rose above 30% for a sustained period when citywide response times were at their worst. As response times have come down, crime has risen again.
The dip in French Quarter crime last summer, therefore, may be at least partially explained by worsening response times, and the increase in crime over the last few months can be at least partially explained by improving response times. Response times, however, do not explain the entire dip last summer nor do they explain the rise in early 2016.
One explanation for why French Quarter crime appears to have held largely steady since 2014 is that these added resources are backfilling what NOPD has lost over the last few years. The State Police responded to about 10 percent of 8th District Calls for Service over the last 9 months of 2015, but only about half of all calls the State Police responded to in 2015 were in the French Quarter and roughly 70 percent were in the 8th District.
While the State Police and French Quarter Patrol have added law enforcement capabilities to the French Quarter, NOPD has lost strength. NOPD went from 115 8th District officers in May 2013 to 90 in March 2014, a 20 percent drop in manpower over just a few months.
Adding the State Police and French Quarter Patrol to the 8th District has helped replace NOPD staffing losses though even further additions in law enforcement resources may be needed to actually reduce French Quarter crime beyond where it was in 2013/2014.
In this light, adding the State Police and French Quarter Patrol may not have reduced crime, but replacing declining NOPD manpower with these elements may have prevented it from rising further.
Specific Crime Changes
There are at least three crime types that have shifted patterns since 2014 that are worth examining in some detail. Armed robberies, shootings and pickpocket incidents are shown in the table below to provide a bit more nuanced view of changing French Quarter crime. I included shootings (both fatal and non-fatal) that occurred in the Central Business District (CBD) in this count as there has been a dramatic uptick in shootings along the periphery of the French Quarter (along both Canal St and Rampart).
The French Quarter accounted for roughly 4 percent of armed robberies in New Orleans in 2015, and the drop in armed robberies from 2014 to present may be a positive sign of State Police or French Quarter Patrol effectiveness. This drop has come at a time when armed robberies in the rest of the city have been rising and are a crime type that may be deterred by the presence of law enforcement. It is worth noting that armed robberies are a seasonal crime that traditionally rise over the second half of the year, so it is possible that the French Quarter will see an uptick in armed robberies in 2016.
Shootings are rare events that are difficult for law enforcement to prevent. That said, the rise in shootings in the French Quarter and CBD is a troubling pattern that defies easy explanation. Citywide gun violence has fallen about 15 percent from 2010-2012 to 2013-2015 yet the French Quarter and CBD have experienced a rise in shootings since 2014. There have been 33 shootings in the French Quarter and CBD since March 2014 after there were only 26 shootings there between 2011 and 2013.
Finally, the rise in pickpockets so far in 2016 presents an interesting crime trend to analyze. There were nearly as many incidents identified as a pickpocket over Mardi Gras (91) as in all of 2011 (108). It is possible that the change in reporting in 2014 is responsible for this phenomenon although pickpocket incidents were rising from 2011 to 2013 and fell in 2015.
Measuring crime in the French Quarter is tough due to changing policies, small sample sizes and questions about data quality. There does not appear to be much evidence that overall crime in the Quarter has fallen with the additions of the State Police and French Quarter patrol although that does not inherently mean those additions have not provided benefit to New Orleans as adding law enforcement resources to the French Quarter may have prevented further rises in crime.
This post was originally published by WWLTV.