NOLA Crime Watch: Citizens as “co-creators rather than subjects.”

Jan 6, 2009 by

Topics covered in this Citizen Crime Watch letter:

  1. We could use some more of that sunshine disinfectant around here.
  2. When the police respond to your 911 call, they’re already too late.
  3. Strike Against Crime.
  4. Police Violence?
  5. Remembering Ja’Shawn Powell.

We could use some more of that sunshine disinfectant around here

Lessons learned. Painful lessons learned.

That’s one way to characterize the experience of living in post-Katrina New Orleans.

A vital question we need to ask ourselves here in New Orleans is what we can do to avoid another debacle such as the Nagin administration has been.

Aside from Ray Nagin’s deplorable disengagement in the post-Katrina recovery, a significant problem for citizens is the frustrating process of trying to guess where the recovery is happening, what’s broken in City Hall, and how they can try to fix the problems which impact the recovery and the quality of life in New Orleans.

It was exasperation of this kind which forced Karen Gadbois into the streets to document either ineptness, or corruption, in the city’s demolition process. Selected as one of Gambit Weekly’s New Orleanians of the Year, Gadbois demonstrated decisively that records really do matter. As geeky as that sounds, by painstakingly compiling records from various sources, and then validating those records on the ground, Gadbois and a small crew of activists were able to uncover systemic government malfeasance.

Thank you Karen! No one will ever really know how much time it took to do that work.

We need more citizen activists like Karen Gadbois. In the future, we need to prevent the obfuscation, foot-dragging, and “who, me?” attitudes which characterized Ray Nagin’s response to Gadbois’ revelations.

Fundamentally, we need to take personality out of the picture. Government transparency should no longer be a battle between personalities and political wills. It should be a fact of life, and the very essence of our democracy so that we can make more informed decisions.

There is only one way to create this kind of transparency in the future.

The answer is NolaStat.

NolaStat is a policy approach to governance and citizen engagement — a process — which uses government records — including crime records — published on the Internet in standard, structured formats, to foster greater government efficiency, to create the highest level of transparency possible, and and to empower citizens to use those public records to innovatively identify and solve problems in a community-centered manner.

Yes, this is a revolutionary idea. No, it isn’t unheard of. In fact, the implementation of this kind of “democratizing data” process in Washington, D.C. is being celebrated as “the best example worldwide” of a technological solution to promote greater government efficiency, transparency, and accountability.

The D.C. CapStat model has been so revolutionary, that its proponents are now advising President-elect Obama. New Orleans should strive to join that movement ahead of other cities, by embracing NolaStat, and demonstrating that New Orleans is no longer a backwater of corruption, but is now a shining example to the rest of the country.

Right now, we desperately need someone like D.C.’s Chief Technology Officer, Vivek Kundra, running City Hall’s technology department — someone who doesn’t view citizens as the problem, but as part of the solution — as “co-creators rather than subjects.”

If sunshine is the best disinfectant, as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said, then NolaStat is the window which allows the sunshine in on New Orleans government. And people like Karen Gadbois are the citizens who pull open the curtains.

This is about using technology to empower citizens, and to build new kinds of social networks. This is about change.

Together, yes we can build a better New Orleans, and by our example, we can help to guide the way to building a better nation.

Your opportunity to support the kind of change possible with NolaStat will come up next week, on Thursday, January 15th, when the NolaStat idea will be presented to the City Council’s Government Affairs Committee, thanks to Councilwoman Shelley Midura, and council aide, David Gavlinski. Additional details will be forthcoming. For now, mark your calendars.

When the police respond to your 911 call, they’re already too late

Question: When did it become acceptable for public officials to ignore citizens?

Answer: When did Mayor Ray Nagin and NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley become (to put it nicely) such ineffectual, peevish public officials?

Both Nagin and Riley have refused to respond to repeated requests to resolve the problem of crime under-reporting.

I don’t wish to be such a nag. I’ve sought cooperation from both Nagin and Riley. I have offered them solutions, and volunteered my assistance. They have rejected these offers, and worse, they have acted in a potentially criminally vindictive manner which does harm to the safety of all citizens.

Former NOPD Superintendent Richard Pennington’s deputy chief, Ronal Serpas, used to say that when the police show up to answer your 911 call, they’re already too late, which is to say, they’ve failed to prevent that crime from happening in the first place.

The first job of the police department should be to properly report all potential threats to public safety. Since the NOPD has done such a really piss-poor job of that, I’ve been arguing that the NOPD should just give up the records so we can do the job ourselves.

Because I found a significant difference between what Riley was reporting as official UCR statistics, and what was being reported on the city’s crime-mapping Web site, Riley decided to remove the records from the Web site.

When you go to the NOPD’s crime-mapping Web site now, you can’t even click on the map icons to get more information. This isn’t just incompetence — it’s egregious, willful negligence, which could place some unsuspecting citizen in the wrong place at the wrong time for lack of information about emerging crime problems.

Warren Riley has demonstrated such a lack of regard for the concerns of citizens, I can only ask why he wants to keep his job. It wouldn’t be hard to explain the challenges of being a police chief in New Orleans — if that were his excuse — and to advocate for reforms to improve the situation.

Instead, Riley has chosen the path of least resistance, leaving us to conclude that — like Nagin — his head is no longer in the game, and he’s just biding time until he can choose to resign at a time when there aren’t any controversies surrounding his leadership.

Strike Against Crime

Silence is Violence has some suggestions for how you can send a message to public officials about how poor their response to the crime problem has been since the 5000-strong March Against Violence to City Hall two years ago. Show your support for an end to violence, and for a serious approach to criminal justice reform. You don’t have to leave work to make a difference. You do, however, have to stand up and be counted.

Police Violence?

Citizens need to be patient in waiting for an independent investigation before drawing their own conclusions about the circumstances surrounding the police shooting and death of Adolph Grimes on New Year’s Day. I have posted my own brief comments on the Citizen Crime Watch blog (here and here).

Another complaint against the NOPD was issued by a Gentilly man who claimed, on WDSU’s Monday 10 p.m. newscast, that police tazed him and choked his wife.

Police officers have a right to defend themselves. That should be foremost in our minds, because they put themselves in harm’s way to deal with the worst kinds of people in order to protect us from harm. We should always be prepared, however, to question the limits of what constitutes protection, and what actions cross the line into abuse of authority. When the police harm citizens, abuse or threaten, it should come as no surprise why witnesses aren’t willing to cooperate with the police to secure prosecutions.

Both of these incidents should be independently reviewed. The shooting incident is being investigated by the FBI. The incidents again underscore the need for the Office of Independent Monitor to be filled as soon as possible.

Moreover, notwithstanding these latest incidents, there are a number of complaints I’ve heard from people in the community about police behavior which raises serious questions about chief Riley’s command control over the department. We were recently reminded of the spectre of rogue cops with Antoinette Frank’s attempt to again appeal her death penalty sentence. If Riley can’t control rogue elements in the police force, then he’s no longer an effective leader, and he should resign.

I am not calling for Riley to resign — necessarily. I have no illusions about how that would be received anyway. I am, however, calling on Riley to remember that the title “chief” in front of his name isn’t just a nice pay grade. I am calling on Riley to act like a leader.

Remembering Ja’Shawn Powell

The least we can do to remember two-year-old Ja’Shawn Powell, who was tragically and savagely murdered by his father, is to help his mother provide a proper burial for him, and hope that the criminal justice system doesn’t fail him. A memorial fund at Liberty Bank has been established to receive donations. Go to for listing of locations, or mail your donation to Liberty Bank, P.O. Box 60131, New Orleans, La 70160.

Brian Denzer
Founder/Executive Director
New Orleans Citizen Crime Watch
5721 Magazine Street #205
New Orleans, LA 70115
[email protected]

There were a number of suggestions offered in the last letter for how you can become involved in helping to improve the advocacy and crime-reporting services provided by Citizen Crime Watch. Those needs remain unfulfilled. If you agree with the goals of Citizen Crime Watch, please help.

This letter has also been posted to the Citizen Crime Watch blog under the heading, Citizens as “co-creators rather than subjects.”

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