The Big Easy To Get Away With Murder
July 29, 2010 7:28 PM   Subscribe

In 2009, New Orleans, Louisiana learned that it had the unwelcome distinction of once again being the murder capital of the United States according to the FBI's homicide data. New Orleans' newspaper The Times-Picayune even has a special map for keeping track of murders (with associated twitter account).

The city had 179 murders in 2008 and 174 in 2009. Already this year there have been 106 people killed.

The question becomes: why such an incredible murder rate? Most would answer that it has something to do with "the 60-day rule." According to Louisiana State Law Article 701:
(1)(a) When the defendant is continued in custody subsequent to an arrest, an indictment or information shall be filed within forty-five days of the arrest if the defendant is being held for a misdemeanor and within sixty days of the arrest if the defendant is being held for a felony.
In other words, the defendant has to be formally charged within two months of arrest, or they walk free. This specific article is the basis for the phrases '701-released' and '60-day homicide'. After Hurricane Katrina many New Orleanians relocated to Houston, TX. Feuds carried over to new neighborhoods, and arrests were made. Houston police didn't understand at first:
But when police interviewed the suspects, they suddenly understood why New Orleans was so violent. No matter what police said, they couldn't get the suspects to talk. They had no leverage because no one took their threats seriously. It was a logical response: in New Orleans, 93% of people arrested from 2003 to 2004 never went to prison. "It was a real eye-opening experience," says Sergeant Harris. "People born and raised in Houston seem to have an understanding of consequences, of punishment. You can show them the options, and they start thinking, Wow, maybe I should start cooperating." With New Orleans evacuees, Sergeant Harris says, "there is no baseline. They have no concept of consequence."

It was the first time the Houston police had heard the phrase "60-day homicide." Suspects would say, "This ain't nothing but a 60-day homicide," meaning that if they kept quiet for 60 days, they would walk--just as they had too often in New Orleans. So Houston police started letting evacuees spend a few days in jail before questioning them in depth. While they waited, the suspects talked with other inmates and had court appearances--which did not end with release. Eventually, for some, the reality of Texas law began to sink in. "As they stay here more, they seem to talk more," Sergeant Harris says.
Recently elected mayor Mitch Landrieu has stated that making the city safe is his top priority and has acknowledged the murder problem. He's brought in a new police chief, New Orleans native Ron Serpas to help clean up, though critics at Serpas' last place of employment had criticisms concerning his effectiveness.

They're maintaining tradition with events such as the “27th Annual National Night Out Against Crime”, attempting to foster communication between the community and the police department. However, between the incredible loss of goodwill thanks to the Danziger Bridge shootings (back in the news because of the federal grand jury indictments brought against NOPD officers), Serpas facing budget cuts and dismissing police department employees, and being under federal oversight, the NOPD is not looking very confident. New Orleans is just going to have to wait and see if their officials can solve this ongoing problem, or if 2010 is sadly going to be another record-breaking year.
posted by komara (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, someone started twitter account just to troll NOLAMurderMap.
posted by griphus at 7:31 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I speak for all of Baltimore, and Detroit, when I say, "Fuck Yeah!"
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:41 PM on July 29, 2010

In the future we'll be seeing murder maps during the weather report. The meteorologist will cleanly segue from the UV and Pollen indexes to the murder forecast. The predictions will still be inaccurate.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:42 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite] continues to be a HECKOFAJOB, Brownie!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:48 PM on July 29, 2010

Probably explains why NO police just murder people instead of taking them in.
posted by empath at 8:24 PM on July 29, 2010

I'm glad to see that this is being addressed and I and a few hundred thousand others would move back in a second in any case.
posted by vapidave at 8:49 PM on July 29, 2010

I don't get why the 60-day rule makes a difference. If there's so little evidence that a person can't be convicted unless they testify against themselves, wouldn't that person keep just as quiet in Houston as anywhere else?
posted by No-sword at 8:51 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

why such an incredible murder rate? Most would answer that it has something to do with "the 60-day rule."

That seems like a really weak reason for the overall number of murders in New Orleans. All the law does is force the police to only arrest people whom the DA has a fairly good chance of bringing prosecution against. The Houston cops are giddy because they can hold people on flimsy evidence for very long periods until they crack or admit under duress to doing something that they didn't do.

Besides, the Houston cop is (not surprisingly) lying, since in Texas even those criminals who cooperate with police are still regularly handed down the same sentences that they would otherwise receive by not cooperating. It's like a bizarre mod of Prisoner's Dilemma, where every option is "Death by lethal injection".
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 8:52 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Furthermore, if the DA is having great difficulty in bringing prosecution against murder suspects, the solution is not necessarily "reduce civil liberties".
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 8:55 PM on July 29, 2010

Cheers, gunshots, heard in Detroit.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember when East Palo Alto here in the SF Bay Area was the murder capital of the US. It is the poor cousin of nearby wealthy Palo Alto, which goes back to the 1800s when Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University disallowed selling of alcohol in his town, so it all went across the city borders.

It was the known place to buy drugs--there were dealers on almost every corner. Gangs were often at war fighting over the lucrative business. The cash-poor city were overwhelmed.

Then they set up some kind of multi-police force action plan. It involved police from all over the Bay Area, and Feds, and other government organizations, and they just clamped it down. Anyone buying or selling drugs anywhere in the city was immediately arrested. They overwhelmed the gangs, and made their business unprofitable, and the murder rate dropped.

Subsequent housing and business gentrification and demographic changes have prevented the town from sinking back into its former hellish glory.

I wonder what the cause is of the high murder rate in New Orleans, and if some similar type action would be effective.
posted by eye of newt at 9:16 PM on July 29, 2010

Man, I was going to offer up a sister city deal with Winnipeg - you guys have French people, we have French people, humidity, flooding issues, we've both carried the rap for homicide capitals... but 174 murders with a population of 334K vs 27 murders/a little under 700K frankly scares the shit out of me. Would you settle for in-laws who hardly ever see each other except at Christmas and even then, barely exchange words cities?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:18 PM on July 29, 2010

Everybody knows that if you don't punish people with consequences enough they murder, murder, murder. You've got to punish with badder ass consequences. Texas knows how to punish with some fine consequences. Ask their retarded people -- the ones that haven't been executed yet.

This smells like a giant smelly vat of conservative ideology, blown up into an news story. I don't trust it any farther than I can murder it, and then punish it with consequences.
posted by edheil at 9:27 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

NOLA tops the country with 64 killings per 100,000, St.Louis comes in 2nd with 47 murders per 100,000 people. This are awful numbers and these are cities that have had violence for a while, but change can happen.

I live in Richmond, VA, once a regular contender for the murder-capital crown. In '94 we had over 80 killings per 100,000, and as recently as 1998 were pushing 50. Last year we had 20 per 100,000, the year before that it was just under 18 per, and this year looks to be somewhere in between. Astonishing as well is that number of the killings are cleared, something like 80% -- nobody is getting away with murder here anymore. Like New Orleans, we used to have months with 20+ killings - this year we've already had 2 months with none at all. (I've got charts and data if you're into that kind of thing.)

We still have poverty and public housing, and I still hear gun shots in the night. We've had some gentrification but nothing to explain the changes. The drug corners are still there. The police here credit a number of things: moving to sector-based policing, where each precinct is broken into smaller sections for which a specific Lt. is responsible; quickly getting suspects off the street to prevent revenge killings; and getting the trust of the community which has help with the flow of information.
posted by john m at 10:11 PM on July 29, 2010

Clearly 'Steven Seagal: Lawman', isn't doing his job.
posted by bwg at 5:05 AM on July 30, 2010

bwg: These stats are for Orleans Parish, Steven Seagal serves Jefferson. I have a feeling that if he were put to work across the river, we'd see some results.
posted by bookwo3107 at 5:26 AM on July 30, 2010

Richmond represent! I've always thought our dramatic drop in crime could be explained by a couple of factors - the change in policing tactics, the economy improving between mid 90's and mid 00's and genetrification/the HUGE expansion of VCU. When I first moved to Richmond, north of Broad st was a known no-go zone after dark. I had friends that lived 1 block north of broad, and if they were bored, they'd go out onto their back porch and shoot their guns at the brick wall of the abandoned warehouse on the other side of their alley. The cops never showed up once, but if you tried that today, you'd be swarmed by VCU. Look at Oregon Hill, Church Hill, Fulton Hill - today's $250,000 houses were $20,000 ten years ago, but as MCV expanded east, and VCU expanded south, those houses got snatched up, renovated and turned into yuppie neighborhoods or student housing. If you just bought your daughter an investment property to live in while she gets her 5 year bachelors in communication, you aren't gonna stand for violent crime in her neighborhood and since you're a relatively wealthy tax paying citizen, the police are going to respond to you.

The criminal element was forced out economically (rising rent as property values increased) and legally (police stepping their game up in response to complaints by economically important citizens - richer, whiter people basically).

That's always been my theory. It's nice how much safer Richmond is now but I'd be lying if I didn't say I missed the bad ol' days was everything was a lot more fun. Biker bars, porno theaters, and skinhead brawls on Grace st. Oregon Hill was a fortress that the cops refused to enter. Secret river spots that you could call your own and never worry about seeing another person. Carytown was basically all gay bars. The northern end of the fan was an open air black transvestite prostitute market. The first hot day of the year could be recognized by the constant gunshots going off all night long. In 2010 I got a ticket for riding my bike without lights on it and there's a panera bread a block from VCU, but none of my friends got robbed at sawed off shotgun point while sitting on their front porch...

"oregon hills at end time, vcu crept up and lit the torch"
posted by youthenrage at 8:08 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone has a xx day murder rule. You can't hold someone in jail without charging them in the US. Most states have a 24 hr murder rule.
posted by goneill at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2010

I live in Richmond, VA, once a regular contender for the murder-capital crown.

I just moved down to Richmond, in the "Devil's Triangle" which apparently had open air drug dealing, brawls in the streets and frequent murders just a few years ago, but now is one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. Tons of trendy restaurants nearby, Art and Science Museums, and so on.

I absolutely love it down here and was shocked when I read about the history of the neighborhood after I moved in.

I called a metafilter meetup down here a few weeks ago and couldn't make it because I was on call, but by all accounts it was a good one.
posted by empath at 10:56 AM on July 30, 2010

No matter what police said, they couldn't get the suspects to talk.

This reinforces what I've learned from years of watching Law & Order: Never say a word to the cops, and you can get away with just about anything.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:37 AM on July 30, 2010

I don't get why the 60-day rule makes a difference. If there's so little evidence that a person can't be convicted unless they testify against themselves, wouldn't that person keep just as quiet in Houston as anywhere else?

I'm also very confused. The only way this makes any sense at all is if you can arrest somebody in Texas and hold them indefinitely without charging them with anything. And that can't possibly be the case. Frankly, that Louisiana law, far from sounding too lenient (which is what the post implies) sounds draconian and tyrannical to me. You can hold someone for 60 days in Louisiana without charging them with anything? Can that be right?

So someone is making an error here and I can't parse what that section of the Time article quoted in the post means. Either Time made a mistake in the editing process and cut out some crucial information, the author of the piece didn't understand what was going on, or I'm completely out of the loop. And even in the latter case I don't understand what the issue in Houston is unless the suspects can be held forever without being charged.

Someone hope me?
posted by Justinian at 1:45 PM on July 30, 2010

I was stunned when I heard of the gaggle of cops who shot up an unarmed 17 year olf and a mentally disabled man. But after reading that they are the murder capital of the world.I'm thinking "that makes sense".

posted by hal_c_on at 3:12 PM on July 30, 2010

justinian: It's my understanding (and please, legal people, correct me if I'm wrong) that every state has some sort of clause about "right to a fair and swift trial" but often times the true meaning of "swift" is left up to the courts. Louisiana has just made it an explicit expiration date, meaning that if nothing happens within sixty days they're free to go. I believe most other states leave the definition of "speedy trial" undefined.

edheil and others: I forgot to specify in the post that part of the problem is that citizens and witnesses are often extremely reluctant to discuss crimes with the police specifically because of the 60-day rule. The logic is that if something goes wrong, or doesn't go right fast enough, the suspect is back on the streets and retribution becomes a problem.

As for my personal beliefs, I think the vast majority of New Orleans' problems are caused by drugs, specifically cannabis and heroin. I think the legalization of marijuana would do wonders to help solve the murder rate here - but as liberal as New Orleans is, it's a blue dot in a red state. It's unlikely to happen any time soon. That compounded with a suffering system that's still not back up to speed, with churches and schools still shuttered and communities struggling to even reach their pre-Katrina quality of life ... well, it's a mess for sure.
posted by komara at 3:38 PM on July 30, 2010

bookwo3107: "bwg: These stats are for Orleans Parish, Steven Seagal serves Jefferson. I have a feeling that if he were put to work across the river, we'd see some results."

But if he's not catching them in Jefferson, they go over to Orleans and kill people.
posted by bwg at 4:26 PM on July 30, 2010

According to this article it's a general break-down of coordination across the board -- police reports are late because they're overworked, DAs are inundated with manual paperwork because all the computer systems are non-functioning, crime labs are somewhere between non-existent and having months of backlogs. It looks to me like prosecutors can't even pull together enough evidence in 60 days to convene a grand jury to indict, let alone try a case.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:40 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you for that link, Rhomboid. If I had found that I would have just used it instead of all my other poorly-thought-out words.
posted by komara at 7:23 PM on July 30, 2010

komara: I think the confusion arises because you're talking about how long a delay there can be between charges being filed and the trial. But the Time article and (from what I can understand) the law you cite are not discussing the delay between the charges and the trial, but rather between arrest and charges being filed at all.

That's a completely different thing.

I'm with No-sword; either there is enough evidence to go to trial without a confession (in which case the 60 day thing is moot) or there isn't enough evidence to go to trial without a confession, in which case the authorities wouldn't appear to have any leverage. Unless, as I said, they can hold a suspect indefinitely in Texas without charging them. And that doesn't seem like it can possibly be the case.

So something is off here.
posted by Justinian at 7:58 PM on July 30, 2010

It might be the case that LA is a state where a grand jury is required to indict on felony murder charges, and the DA can't just file charges. They need at least some amount of preliminary evidence such as a police or medical examiner's initial report to take to the grand jury to get the indictment. If the system is as back-logged as it is suggested, then even these simple procedural things that would be routine in normal districts take longer than 60 days and thus they can't even charge the suspects, let alone apply pressure for a plea or build a case for trial. The issue isn't whether the evidence exists or not -- imagine a scenario where you pick up a suspect several hours after a crime and find a gun in their possession, and it takes 3 - 6 months to get ballistics reports because you have to send the evidence out to another district's lab and hope they get around to it when they can. If you have no witnesses willing to come forward out of fear and no other physical evidence linking them to the scene then you're pretty much boned as you don't have anything to take to a grand jury and so you can't indict.

Now as to what's different in Houston, it could be that they have no such breakdown of procedure, or it could be that they are a state where a DA can directly file felony charges without requiring a grand jury, or it could be that they have in fact already indicted the suspect and are holding them without bail (or they can't make bail), or it could be that they are holding them as material witnesses.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:23 PM on July 30, 2010

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