Crime Commissioner James Carter addresses the City Council Wednesday.

By Tom Gogola, The Lens staff writer |

New Orleans Crime Commissioner James Carter was called before the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday to talk about the implementation of the city’s new CeaseFire initiative in crime-ridden Central City.

He didn’t have much to talk about because the program is just getting underway, so lawmakers presented Carter with a wish list for building around CeaseFire.

The biggest wish was that the program be hitched to what they called “complementary” social services programs.

Crime Commissioner James Carter addresses the City Council Wednesday.

Designed by renowned criminologist David Kennedy at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City and adopted last year by New Orleans, CeaseFire’s key objective is to get people to stop shooting each other. As it was originally conceived, the program doesn’t address persistent social issues that lead to crime, it doesn’t tackle larger reform issues in the criminal justice system, and it doesn’t try to be a re-entry program for soon-to-be-ex cons, according to Kennedy’s book on the program.

During Wednesday’s meeting, council members expanded the scope of CeaseFire to accommodate an emphasis on such broader services.

Following Carter’s presentation, Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell expressed her concern about a lack of prison re-entry programs in New Orleans, even though CeaseFire isn’t targeted at people who would utilize those programs.

“When this person comes out of jail, the day that they put him on the street, I want resources there that he knows, ‘There is housing that I can go in, and there is going to be training that I can go and participate in,’ ” she said.

Carter told Hedge-Morrell that CeaseFire assets would be brought in if the person getting out of jail had a score to settle on the street.

Councilman Jon Johnson implored Carter to include as-yet-created social services programs in his 2013 budget proposal for CeaseFire.

“When you come to the council with your budget offers, even if we don’t fund them, bring us a couple of programs that might complement what you’re doing with the individuals that you’re targeting,” Johnson said, “regardless if it is a training program, or a retraining or an educational program that is specifically targeted to the individuals that you are going to be working with.”

Carter did not immediately respond to Johnson’s demand, nor would he address the directive in an interview after the meeting.

One of CeaseFire’s main efforts is to send  “violence interrupters” into high-crime areas. It also provides a “retaliation mediator” if an individual is wounded in an altercation. The retaliation mediator goes to the hospital after a violent incident to warn the victim about the perils of retaliatory violence.

Councilwoman Stacy Head agreed with Johnson and Hedge-Morrell about an expanded CeaseFire program.

“When you are looking at the two models of CeaseFire, the one that has the interrupter-exclusive model and the one that has the interrupter-plus-wraparound-services … I very much want to see the second focused on,” she said.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson had a different take.

“I thought CeaseFire was all about re-entry,” she said. “I thought re-entry was CeaseFire, I thought that’s what it was all about.”

After being announced in the fall, the program rolled out earlier this year in Central City, identified as the city’s main hot spot for crime.

Carter told the committee he was still pulling together the data to determine the program’s success to date.

CeaseFire employs eight people as violence interrupters, retaliation mediators and outreach workers.

CeaseFire was designed around a startling piece of datum: In any given city, about three-tenths of 1 percent of its population “drives all the violent crime,” as Kennedy told Dylan Ratigan during an appearance on the MSNBC host’s TV show earlier this year.

Kennedy’s program, and variations on it, have been taken up in other cities, often with remarkable results. One evaluation of CeaseFire efforts in Chicago found the program eliminated retaliation murders in five of eight neighborhoods. The Chicago program offered a hybrid that lawmakers in New Orleans have embraced — putting an emphasis on social-services outreach even as it cracked down on violent criminals.

Carter told the committee he is expanding the program beyond Central City, where $1 million in grant money was budgeted this year to roll it out.

Carter said the next targeted neighborhoods would be St. Roch and the 7th Ward. He will be asking for more money to expand the program in 2013, he told the committee.

In his interview with Kennedy, Ratigan noted that the strength of CeaseFire, as Kennedy originally envisioned the program, is that municipalities awash in violent crime that turn the budgeting focus away from root causes and criminal justice reform are “spending pennies by comparison and getting remarkable results.”

New Orleans has the highest per-capita homicide rate in the nation. There were 199 homicides in New Orleans in 2011. There have been 57 homicides in the city this year.

Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New...