Crime & policing in New Orleans was a mixed bag in 2016. Many of the worrisome trends from 2014 and 2015 either fell or leveled off in 2016, but the rise in gun violence remains the elephant in the room that largely spoiled a potentially positive year in terms of crime trends.
Without further ado, I present (in no particular ranked order) the top 7 crime trends of 2016:
Trend 1: UCR Part I Crime Up ~5%:
The city’s UCR Part I crime totals won’t be available for a few more weeks, but Calls for Service provides a relatively accurate window into what those numbers will be. As I predicted way back in March, improved response times and better sex crime reporting will lead to an official rise in the city’s crime count.
I also previously wrote about how there are various ways of measuring UCR Part I crimes that suggest there were roughly an even number of crimes this year compared to 2014 and 2015. Here’s how I look at it: crime in New Orleans jumped 20+% between 2012 and 2014, and all of the available data suggests it has remained relatively steady at just below 2014 levels in 2015 and 2016. This year was slightly up from last year, slightly down from 2014 and still well ahead of where we were 3 or 4 years ago.
Trend 2: Big Jump in Shootings & Murders
Some trends are more depressing to follow than others, and the rise of gun violence in 2016 is one of them. New Orleans will likely finish the year with right around 480 shootings and 175 or so murders. The shooting total will be the worst on record (my record starts in 2010, as far as I know there is no shooting incident count available for New Orleans before that), and the murder count will represent a roughly 17% rise from 2014’s basement.
The worst part of this trend is what it portends for 2017. Only 32.2 percent of shootings have been fatal in 2016 as of the time of this writing. On average shootings in New Orleans are fatal roughly 35.5 percent of the time which suggests that murder will increase again in 2017 without a significant slowdown in shootings.
Trend 3: Armed Robberies Are Down ~10%
Armed robberies decreasing in 2016 is a good thing, there’s no doubt about it. But…it’s not all positive. Much like UCR Part I crime, a small decrease from 2015 levels of armed robberies is good but still represents a 33 percent increase over 2013 levels of armed robberies.
Moreover, the timing of the decrease in the Fall suggests NOPD’s T.I.G.E.R team may have had an effect as it ramped up. But…November and December 2016 were every bit as bad as November and December 2015. It will be interesting to follow armed robberies to see if the decline continues into 2017 or represented a one-time blip from a new enforcement strategy.
Trend 4: Drop in Dispatch Times
NOPD focused heavily on improving response times and the results seem to speak for themselves. Average emergency dispatch times (discounting self-initiated incidents) fell 30 percent, and overall dispatch times fell 15 percent.
It’s a good change after a horrendous 2015, but dispatch times remain well above where they were in 2011 and 2012. At some point we may have to accept that dispatch times will be a problem for the foreseeable future until NOPD increases its manpower significantly or the department finds ways to avoid physical responses to certain non-emergency call types (non-injury accidents I’m looking your way.)
Trend 5: Burglaries are Down
This one is as close as we come to a positive trend without a ‘but’. Overall burglaries are down nearly 9 percent compared to the average from 2010 to 2015 led by a drop in residence, simple and business burglaries.
Vehicle burglaries did have an increase but it was slight. I figured at least one mostly positive trend was needed, so this is it!
Trend 6: Link Between Drug Enforcement and Overdose Epidemic
This one is more of a hypothesis worth following, but there is an incredibly strong correlation between the drop in Schedule I and II (think opioids, cocaine and heroin) drug violations beginning in mid-2014 and the rise in unclassified deaths (think overdose deaths). Schedule I and II drug enforcement fell 60 percent from 2012 to 2016 while the number of unclassified deaths went from right around 50 to over 200. The below chart shows Schedule I/II in blue and orange, marijuana possession violations in green (no real change), and unclassified deaths on a separate axis in red.
Clear causation? No. Possible explanation? Absolutely.
Trend 7: NOPD’s Growing, But Just Barely
I’ve done a few assessments that have held up well, but few seem to have held up as well as the two I did regarding the difficulties NOPD would face in rebuilding its force. The first one was about the long odds NOPD faced when trying to rebuild their force and the second looked closer at the math behind why adding officers can be such a challenge.
The below chart came mostly from NOPD data on the number of recruits and sworn officers per month from 2007 to November 2014. NOPD’s data ended there so I filled in the gaps with informed estimated sworn officer counts and recruit numbers.
This chart shows three things very clearly. First, the hiring freeze in 2010 was devastating for NOPD. Second, the bleeding has stopped and NOPD is no longer losing officers. Third, NOPD has only grown by 30 or so sworn officers since 2014 after losing over 300 from 2010 to 2014. Growth of 30 sworn officers a year would not be bad, but it would also require a decade to get back the manpower loss from 2010.