“Knock on Wood”
Tracking the facts
Joseph Daniel Fiedler Illustration
The roll call room of the Second Police District station (4317 Magazine St.) Uptown resembles the galley of a ship. You walk down a few stairs and suddenly you’re in a large room, lined with wood cabinets and dominated by a long table.
Instead of sailors swapping sea stories, six or seven blue-uniformed sergeants take turns updating their police brethren on arrests made, suspects sought and data-driven strategies to protect the Second District, a nine square mile area that includes Tulane and Loyola universities, Audubon Park and a section of the bustling Magazine Street Shopping Corridor.
A detective steps up to the podium. His presentation includes an update of police “cat-and-mouse” pursuit of known thieves.
Among them is a shoplifting suspect who cops were ready to book the week before with eight counts of theft – but didn’t.
At the jail, the detective explains, “The Sheriff’s office says they won’t take him because of ‘internal bleeding.’”
The police groan, angrily. “Internal bleeding?” one sergeant says, incredulous at the jailers’ alleged refusal. “How do they know?” Sheriff’s deputies have the authority to refuse persons arrested by NOPD who require medical attention. The cops suspect the jailers made a bad call.
Second District Commander Shaun D. Ferguson Sr. raises his hand. The room falls silent.
“Next time,” Cdr. Ferguson announces, “call me if the Sheriff’s deputies don’t take him.”
The detective leaves the podium, still fuming over the prolific shoplifter. “Internal bleeding hasn’t slowed him down.”
Welcome to the Second District’s weekly Comstat meeting, now underway.
Comstat is short for computer-generated statistics and other crime data that are supposed to help cops fight crime more effectively. The weekly forums are open to the public in all of the city’s eight police districts.
Though thick with numbing statistics and police jargon, Comstat offers a window (or “porthole”) into how the NOPD fights crime.
In April, voters rejected a tax proposal Mayor Mitch Landrieu said would reduce crime by putting more cops on the street. Now that the election is over, the threat of budget cuts loom.
“We have to make do with what we have,” Cdr. Ferguson says.
A sergeant notes one cop suffered a broken ankle after a traffic stop of a motorbike led to a foot chase and police take-down of a drug suspect with two outstanding warrants.
Another sergeant adds: “It seems like with a lot of these traffic stops we’re coming up with guns. So, tell your officers to be cognizant of that.”
After the meeting, Cdr. Ferguson says that as of mid-May, crime in the Second is down three percent from the same time last year.
The most serious crime in the Second District recently was an armed robbery that went sour at the coroner of Versailles Boulevard and Fontainebleau Drive.
A 33-year-old woman was shot by a gunman when she refused to surrender her purse. She suffered a graze wound to the neck area. A suspect was later arrested and charged. “The victim is home. She’s going to be OK,” Cdr. Ferguson says. As of May 14, there were 29 armed robberies reported to Second District police – down 21 percent from the 37 holdups at the same time in 2015. The Second District has “solved” 48 percent of those holdups by physical arrest or issuing a warrant for an identified suspect.
“Knock on wood,” he says, rapping a cabinet in the roll call room for good luck.
More recently, he says. “Our biggest problem is auto burglaries,” he says. He raps on a cabinet for luck, adding: “Knock on wood.”
When Shootouts Don’t Count
The next day, Second District police respond to an armed robbery in Broadmoor, a short drive from NOPD headquarters (715 South Broad St.).
According to a “gist” of the crime posted on the police website’s Superintendent’s Major Offense Log, the following took place:
At 12:58 p.m. on Wed., May 18, two unidentified victims were sitting on a porch in the 3700 block of Delachaise Street when “an unknown male exited a silver vehicle and approached the victims. The suspect produced a weapon, demanded the victim’s property and money. The suspect fled on foot leaving the vehicle in front of the location.”
A person who doesn’t want to be named tells this reporter that police responded “immediately” to calls of multiple gunshots. Police blocked off Delachaise Street for several hours.
Cops collected shell casings and advised residents that 10 shots were fired during the holdup. The Superintendent’s Major Offense Log makes no mention of any shooting.
Reporters monitoring the online report for the violence-prone city’s most serious crimes apparently don’t press NOPD officials for details. For example, why did the silver car that carried the gunman remain in the street after the hold-up?
News stories posted by Nola.com and the New Orleans Advocate parrot the police report, also failing to mention any shooting in the robbery.
In response to a series of emails, NOPD Communications Director Tyler Gamble tells this magazine that Second District officers initially responded to a report of an “illegal discharge of a weapon” in the 3500 block of Louisiana Avenue Parkway. “When officers arrived, they located a man in the 3700 block of Delachaise Street. The man told police he was a victim of an attempted armed robbery but that another man he was with had been robbed by an unknown male at gunpoint. During the robbery shots were exchanged, but no one was injured. This incident report is still pending. The investigation is ongoing.”
So why wasn’t the shooting mentioned in the Superintendent’s Log?
Gamble says the log is a report of the city’s most serious incidents, such as murders, robberies and officer-involved shootings.
Incidents are classified under the most serious offense. “The incident is being classified as an armed robbery, which is what was posted in the Chief’s Log.”
“When officers respond to a report of shots fired, if no one or nothing is struck, it’s considered a signal 94, or ‘shots fired.’ Those do not make it on the Major Offense Log as they do not classify as a major offense.”
If detectives later find that a house or vehicle was struck by the gunfire, the information wouldn’t be posted on a Chief’s Log, according to Gamble. “The only crimes involving a gun that would rise to the level of the Major Offense Log are murder, shooting (human shot), armed robbery, officer-involved shooting.”
Later, two Broadmoor area sources said the following took place: Two robbers were in the silver car. One got out and attempted to rob a resident and his young son in the 3500 block of Louisiana Avenue Parkway. The man retreated into his home, armed himself and chased the gunman as they exchanged fire. The gunman ran past the silver car. The driver drew his own gun. The intended robbery victim sprayed the getaway car with bullets. The driver fled, shooting at the intended victim over his shoulder and leaving the getaway car behind.
It is scary enough that two people were robbed at gunpoint shortly after noon as they sat on a porch in a residential neighborhood. An armed robbery is a targeted threat.
A shootout is more frightening because more people are threatened, regardless of whether detectives later determine the bullets pierced cars or a house nearby.
The public should be told immediately of any shootout by the police and the news media. Distrust in both the media and police increases when published reports don’t accurately reflect the true level of danger citizens face and experience.
Distrust translates into a lack of confidence and support for police.
When that happens, we should all follow Commander Ferguson and “knock on wood.”