New Orleans has overtaken St. Louis for the highest homicide rate, with murders more than doubling from pre-pandemic levels
New Orleans, one of the most popular US cities for tourism, has achieved an unwanted title: America's murder capital. Surging crime and breakdowns in law enforcement have given the 'Big Easy' the highest US homicide rate, far exceeding those in such violence-plagued cities as St. Louis, Chicago or New York.
There have been 205 homicides so far in 2022, up 141% from pre-pandemic levels and 46% higher than this time last year, according to data from the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission. The city's homicide rate of 52 per 100,000 residents as of last week surpassed the previous US murder leader, St. Louis, where the rate is at less than 45 per 100,000 so far this year.
The New Orleans homicide rate is nearly triple this year's level in Chicago, one of the most notorious US cities for gun violence. By comparison, New York City has a rate of just 3.5 homicides per 100,000 residents. Murders in New Orleans are running at nearly 15 times that pace.
Carjackings in New Orleans have more than tripled from pre-pandemic levels, and shootings have doubled. With the city's police department understaffed, the average response time to an emergency call is 2.5 hours, according to a recent study. Nhu Vuh, a 40-year-old cashier in a Vietnamese grocery store, told the Wall Street Journal that when she called police after an angry homeless man assaulted her, an officer didn't show up until the next day.
With police quitting faster than the city can hire new recruits, the force has about one-third fewer officers than when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005. Officer Scott Fanning made headlines last July by quitting in the middle of his shift because of concern that short staffing was making the job too unsafe.
The city's top prosecutor, District Attorney Jason Williams, took office last year after being elected with campaign funding from billionaire political activist George Soros. Charges have reportedly been dismissed in about two-thirds of felony prosecutions under his watch, and Williams has refused to indict suspects in nearly half of violent felony arrests.
READ MORE: Pro-police group makes accusation against Soros
Mayor LaToya Cantrell has called for the city to get tough on crime while at the same time pushing for anti-incarceration policies. The city's jail population has dropped about 40% since Cantrell took office in 2018. Critics have argued that the mayor hasn't done enough to support police, and she angered crime victims last month when she showed up in court as a character witness for a 13-year-old who was convicted of carjacking five people in two days. The young robber received a suspended sentence, meaning he was spared any jail time.