Things were not looking good at midyear 2017. Shootings were up with no sign of slowing down, armed robberies were down a couple of percent but slowly ticking upwards, a huge surge in vehicle burglaries and shopliftings had created a double digit increase in UCR Part I crime relative to 2016, and NOPD had shrunk while launching just one small recruiting class all year.
But then all of those negative trends turned around, and the outlook at the end of 2017 is decidedly rosier (though when analyzing crime when is it ever fully rosy?) than it was at the middle of the year. Let’s review:
Trend 1: Gun Violence
The numbers are pretty staggering.
Between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 there were 714 people shot and 205 people murdered in New Orleans. If New Orleans had the same population as Chicago that would work out to over 4,800 people shot and nearly 1,400 people murdered in the span of a year.
But when the calendar changed from June to July things began to slowdown.
There were a combined 52 shootings and 15 murders in August and September of this year compared to 55 shootings and 23 murders in January alone. The city had 26 murders over 3 months from July through September, only the second time with under 30 murders over 3 months since 1971 (Fall 2015 being the other, discounting September-December 2005).
Murder will drop in 2017 relative to 2016. There were 174 murders in 2016 and the city will probably end up with around 155 to 160 depending on what’s being counted as a murder and how the last ten days of the year goes. Part of that drop is due to luck. Only 29 percent of shootings have been fatal this year compared to 34 percent on average since 2010. As a result there have been fewer murders so far in 2017 relative to 2015 despite 80 more shootings this year.
Logic dictates a regression to the mean should come at some point, though if it doesn’t come in 2018 then it’s worth considering whether something is fundamentally making shootings in New Orleans less deadly.
The slowdown this summer was very real but it was also temporary judging by the below chart of firearm discharge reports. Violence since the summer has been roughly where it was in April and May of this year: not as bad as the huge surge in late 2016/early 2017 but not as low as 2014 and 2015 levels.
It’s difficult to predict how violent 2018 will be though the second half of 2017 provides reason for both cautious optimism and worry.
Trend 2: Armed Robberies
Shootings may be a mixed bag at best but armed robberies represent arguably the most positive trend in New Orleans crime/policing this year. Consider that there were an average of 686 armed robbery and carjacking incidents per year from 2010 to 2013 and 951 per year from 2014 to 2016. That’s a 38.6 percent increase almost overnight. In 2017, however, these incidents are down 17 percent relative to YTD 2016.
There will likely be more armed robberies in 2017 than there were from 2010 to 2013, but the city is also substantially larger now. The per capita rate of armed robberies in 2017 is roughly equal to where it was before rising in 2014.
It’s difficult to point to one specific cause for the drop in robberies though it’s equally hard to discount the potential impact of NOPD’s TIGER unit. This unit came online in May 2016 with a mandate to target repeat robbery perpetrators. Robbery clearances were up slightly in 2016 and it would make sense if the unit’s focus had both a deterrent effect as well as leading to fewer potential repeat offenders on the streets.
At this point it’s unknown where the floor for robberies is and whether this downward trend will be long or short term. Those are good questions to have though relative to many of the questions surrounding crime/policing in New Orleans.
Trend 3: UCR Crime
UCR Part I crime in New Orleans has been trending up for much of the past 7 years, badly outpacing the city’s growth over that span. Consider the below graph of a rolling count of UCR Part I crimes in New Orleans over four quarters since 2011. That’s a 38 percent increase between the beginning of 2011 and the middle of 2017 (official counts for the third quarter of 2017 aren’t available yet).
That’s obviously not ideal.
UCR Part I crime was up 10.5 percent relative to 2016 at midyear 2017, and crime tends to rise over the fourth quarter of the year. This is shown in the below graph which charts the annualized pace of Calls for Service for UCR Part I crimes over time for every year since 2010.
But UCR Part I crime isn’t rising at the end of 2017, in fact it has fallen in November and December. Much of the earlier rise and current fall is because of a spike and then drop in vehicle burglaries and shopliftings as seen in the below chart of these incidents over 90 days.
In the 90 days between May 5 and August 2 there were 1,063 vehicle burglaries, and in the 90 days between June 5 and September 2 there were 947 shoplifting incidents. Over the last 90 days, however, there have been just 665 of the former and 683 of the latter. That’s good for a 37.4 percent and a 27.9 percent reduction respectively.
Like robberies, overall UCR Part I crime is trending in the right direction making 2018’s path anyone’s guess.
Trend 4: NOPD Recruitment
On the surface the trend doesn’t appear positive, but if you dig a bit deeper there’s light at the end of the tunnel in terms of growing NOPD. To recap, NOPD lost nearly 30 percent of its manpower from 2010 to 2014 and the force has struggled to grow in the last 3 years despite substantial resources and effort being put toward the problem.
As of December 10 there are 1,088 commissioned NOPD officers and 68 recruits on the force, good for a combined 1,156 officers and recruits. The number of commissioned officers has been steady since September and represents the most on the force since August 2014. Adding a class of 40 recruits that started earlier this week brings the total to around 1,200 which would be the most combined officers and recruits since the end of 2013.
There were three NOPD recruit classes launched in 2017 with 94 recruits in them. That’s below the 4 classes and 114 recruits in 2016 and 4 classes and 129 recruits in 2015. Optimism starts to grow, however, if one looks below the surface.
There are three main reasons why.
First, the schedule is set up for four classes in 2018 if NOPD wants and can fill them. NOPD has not run three classes simultaneously under the consent decree as shown in the below table, and given the challenges facing the NOPD Academy that’s probably a good thing.
So let’s assume NOPD can only run 2 classes at once. That means a class can launch in February, June, August and December. Throw in the class that launched on December 18 and you’ve got 5 classes going over the span of just over a year. That’s a good schedule for growth.
Second, attrition was down in 2015 and 2016, but it was way down in 2017. NOPD has averaged 9.5 percent attrition every year since Katrina including 8.3 percent in 2015 and 8.8 percent in 2016. This year, however, there have only been 60 separations of commissioned officers according to data from Civil Service. That works out to an attrition rate of 5.7 percent, the second lowest since 1995. Maybe there are a few more departures before the end of the year, you’re still looking at an attrition rate of roughly 6 percent.
Some of that is undoubtedly due to a pair of pay raises in 2015 and beginning at the start of 2018, and the impact of those pay increases will only decrease over time. But a 2016 survey from the NOPD Consent Decree Monitor found officers believed working conditions and community relations were improved. Either way, measuring NOPD morale by the number of officers leaving suggests the force feels pretty good at the moment.
The third and final reason for optimism is that applications are up. They’re not just up, they’re through the roof. The below chart measures the average number of applicants per month to NOPD over 12 months.
About 450 to 500 applicants per month are needed to sustain meaningful growth of about 30 officers per year (all data courtesy of NOPJF). This year though there have been an average of over 600 applicants per month.
Too many applicants is a good problem to have, but it means NOPD must be prepared to do more background investigations and train large academy classes. Growth is there for the taking though and it’s plausible that 2018 will bring the first meaningful growth of NOPD officers since 2009.
The next challenge then becomes ensuring those officers follow the reforms of the consent decree and deploying them in such a way as to avoid less meaningful arrests while increasing important ones. But, as I said, these are good problems to have.
What’s in store for 2018 is really anybody’s guess. We’ll have a new mayor and may or may not have a new police chief. There’s no reason to believe gun violence has fundamentally changed, so a roughly similar number of shootings and murders is the most likely outcome for next year though it’s equally plausible that a smaller number of shootings produces more murders.
There is no reason to doubt that the drop in armed robberies cannot continue into 2018 though there’s also no reason to expect a third straight year of falling robberies to be a guarantee. Similarly there is no reason to doubt that UCR Part I crimes can’t fall in 2018 after a rise in 2017.
Finally, the most likely outcome is that NOPD will grow a healthy amount in 2018 serving as a payoff for several years of hard work from NOPD, NOPJF and City Hall. Just how much NOPD grows and whether any potential growth can be sustained beyond next year are still open questions.