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Short-Staffed NOPD Downgrades Felony Reports, Slowing Response

A crime analyst's report this week to New Orleans City Council shows that crimes as serious as rape, armed robbery, carjackings, aggravated assault and domestic disturbances are often shifted from high to low priority, delaying responses by police that at times can discourage victim cooperation, reports Dozens of reports of aggravated rapes this year were downgraded from emergency status to a less urgent classification, resulting in hours-long delays before the understaffed police department sent officers to investigate, according to findings by City Council crime analyst Jeff Asher.

When officers do arrive, rape victims sometimes are no longer at the scene. NOPD's policy is to follow up on such cases, but the lengthy waits are raising concerns among advocates and officials about the emotional toll being taken on rape survivors — and the likelihood that such crimes may not be investigated at all. The reasons behind the reclassifications and delays are not entirely clear, but with manpower at the lowest levels in decades, authorities appear to be trying to make sure that only still-unfolding emergencies get lights-and-siren treatment. NOPD spokesperson Gary Scheets said the department has policies in place that aim to prevent such cases from disappearing completely. Any time a sex crime or an instance of child abuse is reported but the caller cannot be located, investigators are required to attempt to follow up, Scheets said. He said when that fails, the case is left open but inactive. A recent report from the Sexual Violence Response Advisory Committee, a panel formed in 2015 after investigators found the department's sex-crimes unit failed to investigate hundreds of reported crimes, showed its officers clear just one of every 20 sex crimes, not including rapes uncounted because the victim could not be located. NOPD’s current roster of officers, at around 950, is the lowest it’s been in decades, making the depleted force handle caseloads three times larger than the recommended average.


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