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New Orleans Police Superintendent On Policing Reforms That Have Been Working, And Why


For a second year, violent crimes are up in cities throughout the country. New Orleans hasn't been immune. It saw a spike in homicides and armed robberies earlier this year. But in recent months the police department has reported a slight decrease in violent crime, at least compared to last summer. It's a police department operating under a federal consent decree since 2013. New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson joins me now. Welcome to the program.

SHAUN FERGUSON: Good afternoon. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: First, can we tease apart these numbers? What do we mean when we say the decreases in violent crime? What can you tell us?

FERGUSON: It was more about the reduction of the rate of the increase. More or less in May, we had a significant spike. And there was an anticipation of an explosion, more or less, during the summer months. We put in some initiatives, and then we had a decrease in homicides compared to the number of homicides we had in 2020. And just overall, as well as with our home robberies and our shootings, we're starting to see a decrease in these various violent crimes for the months of June and July.

CORNISH: You put into place this Operation Golden Eagle, which is an increased policing initiative. This is coming just a few months after the national protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality really has many people questioning the idea that more police is the best way to deal with communities that are struggling with crime. How did you navigate this?

FERGUSON: Let me start by saying, one, we have a great community that supports our department. And they understand that there is some level of policing that still - there is a function that we must have. In having that consent decree, we have instilled in our officers the best practices, policies and training that can be across the nation. The transparency in which we have established with regards to any critical incidents without our community has really allowed us to continue to police the way that we need to police but in a constitutional way. And that is the key to it - continuing to police in a constitutional way.

CORNISH: But the reason why I ask is because there is an argument, especially in conservative and pro-police union circles, that says, look. The call to defund police and the activism around those issues has hurt morale and has somehow scared police from doing their jobs for fear of public backlash.

FERGUSON: I can't agree to a certain extent that we have seen that. Here in New Orleans, our attrition rate has increased like we have not seen before. I mean, we've lost 93 officers this year and lost 96 all of last year. And that is the result of some of the scrutiny in which this profession has come under. But we can still do our job effectively. We just have to be smart about it. This is a call for change with regards to how we are policing.

CORNISH: What is your response to critics who say the reason why violent crime is up is because the police force who are on the frontlines of fighting that crime are demoralized and are somehow pulling back?

FERGUSON: My argument is that unfortunately, law enforcement is being placed in a position as the face of the criminal justice system. And it is actually a system that is comprised of other components, meaning the district attorney's office, meaning the courts. Law enforcement should not wear the hat alone.

CORNISH: But since the activism that we've seen, are there ways that you're thinking about policing differently? Has anything in the last few months given you pause?

FERGUSON: Well, we have to think about not that phrase, defunding the police. We have to think about, what does that truly mean? Now, in some facets, you have the extremes that absolutely want to dissolve the police department. But in the others, there is this notion that we should look at how we responded to some things we possibly should not be responding to. So right now, we are doing a pilot program, alternative response, to mental health calls in which we're going to triage the calls through our communications division to determine if a civilian staff team can handle that call alone without police involvement because if there's a violent incident, we need to be there, Johnny on the spot. But we can respond to some things differently and not necessarily involve the police.

CORNISH: Well, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FERGUSON: Thank you again for the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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