Last August I wrote an analysis for The Advocate on how response times to business burglaries were spiking and the effect that spike had on those crimes being considered ‘Unfounded’ or UNF. The inspiration for that analysis was a series of burglaries at a Bywater comedy club that received long response times and were given UNF dispositions as a result.
Attention to business burglaries began in August, and starting in October there’s been a dramatic (and so far unexplainable) drop in the number of reported business burglaries in New Orleans.
New Orleans averaged 55 business burglaries per month in 2014 and was averaging 66 per month in 2015 through the end of September. From October 2015 through July 2016, however, there have been only 30 business burglaries per month.
Burglaries as a whole were down 6 percent in the first six months of 2016 compared to the first six months of 2015, but business burglaries were down 55 percent over that span.
That’s a hugely dramatic change. And it turns out that there’s no obvious explanation in the available data.
The first avenue I explored was whether something had changed in how business burglaries (Signal 62B in Calls for Service) were being coded or responded to. The length of time it took to dispatch an NOPD officer to a business burglary doubled from 2014 to 2015 but those times have come down by about half an hour so far in 2016. The percentage of business burglaries being marked ‘Report to Follow’ or RTF fell from 88 percent in 2014 to just under 82 percent in 2015 but that number has mostly bounced back in 2016.
The final coding possibility I checked was whether a large number of business burglary calls were being coded as something else. NOPD provides an initial and final signal for all Calls for Service, so perhaps business burglaries are being re-coded after the initial call. There’s a bit of evidence that this is happening, as 12 percent more calls that are initially business burglaries are receiving a different final call type, but that hardly explains a 55 percent drop in business burglaries.
Another explanation could be that the drop in business burglaries is due to a localized change in the crimes. Measuring the number of incidents per NOPD district shows the drop in business burglaries is basically citywide.
Only the 4th District (the Westbank) is on pace to see less than a 40 percent drop in business burglaries in 2016 as of mid-August. It’s worth noting that the 4th District also had the fewest business burglaries of any NOPD district in both 2014 and 2015.
Whatever is impacting these crimes is happening citywide. There’s no obvious explanation for the change but it is obvious that a change has occurred.
Such a dramatic and sudden drop in a crime type raises questions as to why it has occurred. Right now the best we can do is acknowledge the change and keep trying to answer it.