In response to the severe crime problem in New Orleans, the ACLU of Louisiana says get tough and lawfully target known criminals, while respecting and protecting our constitutional freedoms.  At the same time, independent oversight of the police is needed more than ever to help root out the unfit and build trust with the public.  Furthermore, we call on public officials to engage in preventative measures to strengthen communities and families and rebuild support structures. 

"Use smart policing to lawfully target known murderers, rapists, robbers, and assaulters and bring them to justice," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana.  "Simultaneously, Chief Riley needs to act quickly and decisively to make sure officers are fit for duty or remove them from the force, so people will cooperate and have confidence in the system."

Immediately, public officials need to get down to business with some common sense alternatives to their failed "get tough on crime" tactics of the past.  That has led Louisiana to have one of the highest crime and incarceration rates in the world.  As such, higher numbers of arrests will not necessarily make us safer, but precise targeting of individual serious and violent offenders can help.  The problem with our criminal justice system is not softness but low apprehension rates in that 85% of offenders are never caught. 

The ACLU strongly opposes the automobile checkpoints as announced by Mayor Nagin and Chief Riley at yesterday's press conference.  Police will just waste valuable time on a fishing expedition, instead of using credible leads to pursue known bad actors.  Checkpoints to gather general evidence of criminal wrongdoing have been declared unconstitutional.  Innocent people should not have to suffer even more with the loss of their right to travel freely.

Likewise, Senator Landrieu should scuttle her proposal to make FEMA violate a federal privacy law and give identifying information of aid recipients to the police.  People who have lost their homes and live in a trailer should not have to lose their privacy as well.  No evidence has been presented to show that disclosure of the sought after information would aid in fighting crime.  The federal law at issue protects all FEMA aid recipients from going into a criminal database, which includes virtually everybody in the New Orleans metro area.  Turning innocent people?s social security numbers and addresses over to the police will do nothing to make us safer from violent criminals.

Senator Landrieu's proposal for surveillance cameras raises even more questions.  No objective data exists to support the use of video surveillance by police in public places to prevent or solve crimes.  In London, where 150,000 cameras were installed to reduce crime, certain incidents of violent crime actually rose after the network was installed.  In-studio staff, however, were found to engage in violations of civil liberties: They focused almost exclusively on people of color, gays and young people, along with monitoring public meetings, marches and demonstrations.  Instead of cameras, use the money on fundamental reforms proposed below to lower the crime rate. 

ACLU 5-point Action Plan:

  • Invest in real crime prevention.  Young men 15 to 29 years old commit most of the alarming street crime in New Orleans and across the nation.  The key to crime prevention lies in strong families and communities--jobs with a livable wage, decent housing and neighborhoods, quality schools for everyone - not more prisons.
  • Move forward with staffing and funding the office of the Independent Monitor for the NOPD to hold the police accountable to the people who pay their salaries.  People will not cooperate with police officers that they do not trust or respect.
  • Expand non-prison sanctions for non-violent offenders: tickets instead of jail for minor offenses; wider use of release on personal recognizance, home detention, restitution, etc.  Save costly prison space for those who should be removed from society.  Cease wasting taxpayer money on wasteful incarceration in Louisiana?s state and local jails that already cost taxpayers close to one billion dollars a year. 
  • Treat non-violent drug abuse and small quantity possession as a public health issue, not a crime problem.  Nearly two-thirds of today's prisoners are non-violent drug abusers.  They need treatment, not a jail or prison cell.
  • Stop enacting or considering ineffective "anti-crime" laws or policies like check points, surveillance cameras, and release of FEMA lists to law enforcement that reduce our freedoms - but not our crime rate.  Many police, prosecutors and corrections officials agree that constitutional rights do not hinder effective law enforcement. 

"Again, we need to think creatively and make changes already proven to work elsewhere, like those presented at the most recent crime summit," emphasizes Cook.  "Invest heavily in prevention that stabilizes and strengthens families to prevent crime, which makes more sense than just trying to catch criminals after people have been murdered, raped, or robbed.   Stop wasting valuable police resources on arresting and incarcerating people on municipal offenses for which a citation would suffice." 

Cook goes on to say, "Effective law enforcement and protection of civil liberties are both essential in a democracy with individual liberty.  The ACLU believes that we can be both safe and free."