Posted on September 20, 2022

New Orleans Has America’s No. 1 Murder Rate

Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2022

Violent crime in New Orleans has grown to the point that Ibrahim Rabee no longer feels safe at his auto shop.

At least seven people have been killed within blocks of his store since the beginning of the year, according to police records. Customers bring in cars for repairs with handguns and semiautomatic rifles piled on the seats, Mr. Rabee said. A man with a gun recently threatened an employee who wouldn’t put air in his tire. After someone walked in with a gun and threatened to shoot up the store, Mr. Rabee called 911. An officer finally showed up the next day.

“I’m thinking I’m not going to work another year here,” said Mr. Rabee, who came to the U.S. from the Palestinian territories and is now considering moving near his brother in upstate New York.

Violent crime has surged across the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. Although it has flattened in much of the country this year, the numbers have continued to rise in several cities including Dallas, Phoenix and New Orleans, according to data compiled for the first half of this year by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a professional organization of police executives.

New Orleans had the highest homicide rate of any major city so far this year, with about 41 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the organization’s data, collected from most of the nation’s largest law-enforcement departments. The homicide rate was 11.5 in Chicago, 4.8 in Los Angeles and 2.4 per 100,000 in New York City for the same period.

This year to date, the New Orleans homicide rate is up 141% compared with the same period in 2019, according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission Inc., a nonprofit that works to reduce crime in the city. Shootings are up 100%, carjackings 210% and armed robberies up 25%. The homicide rate is on pace to surpass last year’s rate, which was the worst since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Criminologists and law-enforcement officers have cited several potential factors in the rise in violent crime across the U.S., including stress from the pandemic, police pullbacks after racial-justice protests and a proliferation of guns.

In New Orleans, city officials and residents point to an overwhelmed police department as a major factor. The city has about 50% to 60% of the officers it needs to offer adequate protection for residents, estimated Ronal Serpas, who was the city’s police superintendent from 2010 to 2014 and is now a criminal justice professor at Loyola University New Orleans.


Police officers and political leaders, including Democratic Mayor LaToya Cantrell, say the department has been hobbled in part by fallout from a decade-old agreement between the federal government and the city to address corruption and other issues, which they say has resulted in crackdowns on officers for minor infractions. Police officers are leaving the force more quickly than the city can replace them, making it easier for criminals in the city.

“The criminals are more bolder and more brazen,” said New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson. “They do not believe they will face any consequences for their actions.”

The police department is stretched so thin that the average 911 response time is 2½ hours, according to a recent report by an analytics firm presented to city council. The department says the time is much shorter for very serious emergency calls.


In March, thieves stole the car of a 73-year-old woman, who was dragged to her death as they drove away. Four juvenile teenagers have been charged with the crime. In June, an 80-year-old woman was killed by random gunfire at a high-school graduation. Several children have been hit recently by stray gunshots.

Michael Casey, owner of Liberty Cheesesteaks, was on a date in a wealthy area of the city when he witnessed an older man being beaten during a carjacking. He rushed over to help and the attacker fled, but then returned twice and threatened to shoot the man and Mr. Casey, 38 years old.

The police arrived relatively quickly, he said, but when Mr. Casey pointed out the attacker, they wouldn’t go after him. An officer advised the victim to buy a gun, Mr. Casey said.

Afterward, Mr. Casey decided to close his shop in New Orleans, leaving him with one location in the suburbs. “I can’t put a 16-year-old kid at the register and he’s going to get two in the head,” Mr. Casey said.

Scott Fanning, 23, made local headlines when he quit the city’s police department a few hours into his shift in July out of frustration with the staffing shortage.

“It’s dangerous stuff every single day,” said Mr. Fanning, who moved to Covington, La., to work as a handyman. {snip}

James Martin, 48, left the department last fall after witnessing extensive looting on his patrols following 2021’s Hurricane Ida. The stress became too much, he said. {snip}

A chief complaint among police officers, echoed by the mayor, has been a 2012 agreement between the city and the federal government to overhaul the department. The agreement, known as a consent decree, was implemented after then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked the Justice Department to investigate the New Orleans police in 2010. It gave a federal judge authority to oversee police reforms to correct issues of corruption, inequity, abuse of power and other problems that had plagued the department for years.

The decree was supposed to last six years, but was extended because the court hasn’t yet declared that the problems have been resolved. Mayor Cantrell has called for the decree to end, arguing that it has led to officers being punished repeatedly for minor infractions.