Update: Shooting victim Deb Cotton has released a statement, posted below, calling for accountability in the city’s efforts to combat violent crime.
In the wake of the Mother’s Day shootings, the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee meets this afternoon for what chairwoman Susan Guidry is calling a “full review” of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s NOLA for Life violence-reduction initiative — including an analysis comparing the cost of the program and its effectiveness.
But while top officials of the Landrieu team are slated to testify, the administration thus far has not provided the council with requested information about the program’s budget.
“It does appear at this point, since we only have two hours tomorrow, that we will only be able to scratch the surface” of the budget for the programs, Guidry’s Chief of Staff Matthew Fraser said Tuesday. “What she [Guidry] wants to focus on is what these programs are, are they working.”
In a May 13 statement issued by her office, Guidry said the committee’s cost-benefit analysis would be “a review of the various programs under the NOLA for Life umbrella, the goals and targets associated with each, the metrics being used to measure success, and staffing and budget requirements.” Subsequent communications between Guidry’s office and administration officials, provided to The Lens, show that Guidry requested NOLA for Life budget information from the administration, but only limited figures were provided.
The meeting is scheduled to include testimony from Landrieu Chief of Staff Judy Reese Morse, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas and Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo. I’ll live-blog it below.
Facing a homicide rate 10 times higher than the national average, Landrieu introduced the multifaceted murder-reduction plan in his 2012 “State of the City” address. It draws on a number of nationally recognized crime reduction models, including criminologist David Kennedy’s early intervention and conflict resolution program, called Ceasefire, and Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission.
Landrieu has touted NOLA for Life as a “comprehensive plan to end murder and violent crime in our city.” In addition to Ceasefire New Orleans and the Mayor’s Strategic Command to Reduce Murders (a program inspired by the Milwaukee model), SOS NOLA Midnight Basketball and a new multi-agency gang unit are among programs under the NOLA for Life umbrella.
City budget documents for 2013 don’t include a NOLA For Life line item or separate items showing how parts of the plan are funded.
In a May 20 email to Morse, provided by Fraser, Guidry requested information that would help with a cost analysis of the program.
“Please get this information to me today, so that I may have time to review and prepare for Wednesday’s meeting. As we discussed, this would be the data collected regarding the cost of each of the programs and the effectiveness, the performance measures used, etc.,” Guidry’s email said.
But by Wednesday morning, Councilmembers had been given only annual costs for three NOLA for Life programs:
Ceasefire New Orleans: $165,000
SOS Midnight Basketball: no cost to general fund
the Mayor’s Strategic Command to Reduce Murders: $124,000
An email from Fraser to council members explained that the administration had provided Guidry’s office only the costs to the city’s general fund, not other funding sources.
City purchasing records show two active contracts, totaling nearly $500,000 in maximum value, with the Urban League of Greater New Orleans to oversee Ceasefire. City officials told NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune this week that Ceasefire New Orleans has received $295,000 in Wisner Donation funds, $245,000 from a Bloomberg Innovation Delivery Team grant and $81,000 from Baptist Community Ministries in 2013. Homicides, the article notes, have increased in Ceasefire’s Central City coverage area since the program’s inception.
And The Times-Picayune reported last year that the city spent about $300,000 — not from the general fund — on a NOLA for Life ad campaign created by movie director Spike Lee’s agency. Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni did not respond to The Lens’ requests for additional budget information. The administration later provided Guidry’s office a brief summary of NOLA for Life’s effectiveness measures without any budgetary information.
“This is good information, but it is not terribly helpful in looking at the cost (to do a benefit analysis and compare to other programs targeted at the same population) and the funding sources. Hoping we get that too,” Council Vice President Stacy Head responded to Fraser in an email she provided to The Lens.
Council members’ requests for information focused on the publicly administered portions of NOLA for Life, but there is another part of the plan — the NOLA for Life Fund — controlled by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, a non-governmental nonprofit.
The fund was created with a $1 million donation from Chevron and $250,000 from the city late last year. As manager of the fund, the foundation is to provide grants to local nonprofits to “immediately increase their capacity to serve the highest risk individuals in our community,” reads a November 2012 request for proposals.
In February, the foundation and the city announced a total of $500,000 in awards to 23 groups, ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 apiece. Neither city officials nor the foundation responded in time for publication of this article to requests submitted Tuesday for all grant applications, including winners and losers.
Grantees include the youth mentorship program Apex Community Advancement, the Covenant House emergency shelter and Resurrection After Exoneration which provides assistance to former prison inmates.
Greater New Orleans Foundation Senior Vice President Ellen Lee sent The Lens a template for the grant agreement, that calls for each grant winner to provide a report detailing services provided. Those reports are due on May 1, 2014, two months after the one-year grant period ends.
Lee said the charities were vetted by a committee made up of both city and foundation employees. Lee did not respond to requests for the names of committee members or criteria for grant awards.
Statement from Deb Cotton
A little over a week ago, I was shot along with 19 other people at the Mother’s Day second line. Everyone survived varying degrees of injury. I am still in the ICU and I have at least 2 more months of possible hospital stay.
I have known from the moment the shooting happened that I did not want these young men thrown to the wolves and that we have been given yet another opportunity to demonstrate a different way of treating our humanity.
Those young men and other young men like them did not end up at 20 years old saying that I am going to shoot 20 people today.
Do you know what it takes to be so disconnected in your heart that you can walk out into a gathering of hundreds of people who look just like you and begin firing?
They have been separated from us through so much trauma. Now where do we go?
We have, over the last 2 1/2 years, brought to town and invested in report and programs created by the best experts in the fields of public safety and criminal justice. We have programs that have been identified that are making great strides that we have not given full blown chance to succeed. We spend money on other programs that aren’t proven and communities don’t know how to access. Every young man at risk should know about available programs with proven success that can help him.
It is absolutely critical that the entire city know the criteria used for funding and measuring success in all criminal justice initiatives, such as NOLA for Life.
We need to know the 12 plus best practices for reforming our criminal justice system, already identified by criminial justice experts brought here over the last 2 1/2 years. And to hear that the administration has a reinvigorated commitment to integrate these changes into policies, because to continue to run the opposite way during a crisis is counter productive and makes no sense.
We need more answers and leadership from all involved.