Months after end of ‘predictive policing’ contract, Cantrell administration works on new tool to ID ‘high-risk’ residents

Months after the city abandoned a controversial data initiative used to predict and identify which New Orleans residents were most likely to be entangled in violent crime, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration is quietly developing a similar tool, documents obtained by The Lens show.

The new identification tool is one component of a larger plan to target high-risk citizens with “social interventions.” Additional details about the “the method for actually implementing and tracking our target population,” will be made public by May 2019, according to an internal memo.

In February, an article in The Verge shed light on a largely unnoticed arrangement between the city of New Orleans and Palantir, a company created by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel with funding from the CIA. It gave the city access to Palantir’s “Gotham” software, which, the company claims, can identify people at high risk of committing or falling victim to gun violence by analyzing police reports, social media, and other databases, including jailhouse phone logs.

The ACLU bemoaned the program as “predictive policing,” and argued that algorithms relying on police data exacerbate existing biases in the criminal justice system. Other critics said it unjustly punished people for hypothetical crimes they hadn’t yet committed.

State environmental agency investigating asbestos contamination at New Orleans school

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality wants to know what went wrong at the Rosenwald school building, where contractors will be doing a $1.3 million asbestos clean-up.

This is the third asbestos clean-up required at an Orleans Parish public school this year. State and local school officials note no students were present at Rosenwald when the cancer-causing material was detected in an air quality test in early May. Still, an expert at DEQ told The Lens that the contamination never should have happened.

Senior Environmental Scientist Dwight Bradshaw oversees asbestos work for LDEQ in New Orleans.

“If you’re following the regulations you should not have had this contamination throughout the building,” Bradshaw said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

Facing closure, two F-rated Algiers charter schools move in together

Two F-rated Algiers Charter network elementary schools consolidated to one building this week as they face closure at the end of the 2018-19 school year amid the city’s annual charter school shake-up.

The move by William J. Fischer Academy and McDonogh 32 Charter School came more than a month after the Orleans Parish school district halted enrollment at the two West Bank schools and about two weeks before state school letter grades are due to be released.

The two charter schools have been rated F by the state Department of Education for two years, meaning they have underperformed on state standardized tests. Fischer was also rated an F in 2015. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. In exchange for the freedom to hire who they want and set curriculum, the schools must meet annual academic and financial goals to stay open.

Both schools’ charter contracts are up for renewal in December. They each must receive a C to be eligible for a new contract under district guidelines. The district wasn’t confident that would happen.

Behind The Lens episode 4: ‘This buys you some time to move away’

Producer Tom Wright interviews Lens columnist Peter Horjus about a proposed change to state law designed to slow down large property tax increases.

Lens reporter Michael Stein talks about Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s new tool that looks similar to a ‘predictive policing’ model. The new identification tool is one component of a larger plan to target high-risk citizens with “social interventions.”

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is looking for answers after the Orleans school district’s third asbestos clean-up this year. Reporter Marta Jewson spoke with a DEQ scientist who said he’s getting different answers from different entities.

Healing Center infuses Halloween with deeper Haitian and Mexican attitudes toward death

Columnist Orissa Arend opens your eyes to Mexico’s Day of the Dead and invites you to join in the celebration.

“Standing behind each of us is a long line of ancestors who continue to love and guide us. We New Orleanians know this. We have an uneasy feeling that we wouldn’t be here at all without that love and guidance. We feel it in our bones. We celebrate it in personal and public ways even though—if you are like me—this spirit stuff doesn’t fit neatly into a religious world view or the faith in magic and superstition that I hold at arm’s length.

But let’s not leave Halloween just to the children.”

Proposition 6 is deeply flawed: Hold your nose and vote for it anyway

Columnist Peter Horjus tells us why he’ll be voting for Proposition 6 in the upcoming election.

“In New Orleans, there has been a lot of concern about the impact of rising property assessments and the associated taxes. The suspected causes of these rapid increases include Air B&B and other modes of short-term rental, rapid gentrification, and inequality in assessments by the Assessor’s office, to name a few.

Whatever the cause, the result of rapid increases in property taxes remains the same: homes lost by owners who cannot afford the increases and by renters who cannot bear the increased property tax burden passed on to them. The end result is a general displacement of neighborhood residents who are not rich enough to live there anymore.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...