This summer could be one of the worst for crime in recent memory. The 1,430 cops on the rebuilding New Orleans Police Department are no match for an estimated 50,000 juveniles in Orleans Parish, including thousands who have returned to the city since Katrina – without adult supervision.
However, if we follow the creative examples of two late NOPD cops (one black, one white) we could begin to turn the tide against crime.
How? By thinking outside the box, like Sgt. Israel Fields Jr. and Maj. E. Ray Holman did.
Long before “community policing” became a marketable commodity for high-priced consultants, Fields and Holman saw how embracing disadvantaged youth could be more effective – and even more fun – than traditional crime suppression methods.
Fields was eulogized by the NOPD as one of two undercover officers who infiltrated the Black Panthers in 1970, then escaped after being discovered and beaten. Fields and Officer Melvin Howard, now a lieutenant, were both awarded the Medal of Valor, the department’s highest honor.
Later, as president of the Black Organization of Police, Fields recalled with alarm how readily public housing residents consumed Panther “propaganda” depicting NOPD as a predominantly white “army of occupation.”
As BOP president, Fields embraced efforts to make the department more reflective of the community it served. Affable and earnest, Fields also encouraged all cops to “reach back” and mentor youths through sports and other outreach efforts.
Maj. Elbert Ray Holman was a conservative iconoclast. A spit-and-polish police commander with silver hair and a ramrod posture. A tough disciplinarian, he joined the NOPD in 1968, one year after receiving the Navy Commendation Medal for “exemplary performance under hostile fire” in DaNang, Vietnam.
Holman coordinated police operations for the 1984 World’s Fair, Carnival parades and an estimated 500 other annual events – as if he were planning the defense of the city itself. In ’82, he designed a French Quarter restricted parking plan for Mardi Gras, which is still used today.
Holman also relished the challenge of reducing “friction” through “community involvement.”
As captain of the First Police District in the early 1980s, he eased longstanding tensions with the gay community by organizing “Blue and Gay” charity softball games (referred to by some of the participants as “cops ’n queers”). The games raised $10,000 to outfit a playground for disabled children.
Working with a neighborhood group in the Iberville housing project, Holman’s cops spent 13 weekends with a total of 430 boys, ages 8 to 11, taking trips to parks, the zoo and historic sites. “This program was the basis for a marked decrease in juvenile criminal activity in and around the [housing] development,” Holman later wrote. He also took pride in creating a jobs program for unemployed Iberville residents – an extraordinary initiative for a cop, even today.
To cops like Fields and Holman, the city’s disadvantaged youth were worth fighting for, then and now. Building on the earlier, pioneering works of NOPD Lt. Rinal “Fat Daddy” Martin, Fields and Holman saw, 25 years ago, the wisdom of a post-Katrina crime-fighting strategy recommended last year by the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center: www.urban.org/afterKatrina.
“[A] focus on suppression efforts – such as curfews, surveillance cameras and heavy police enforcement and prosecution … should not be done without coordinated crime prevention efforts” such as drug treatment, mentoring and summer job initiatives.
In the spirit of Fields and Holman, here’s “The Play:”
We host a “Katrina Olympics Weekend” for disadvantaged youth (ages 4 to 24) akin to the 2008 Summer Games at Beijing in August.
Athletic teams of youths would “represent” the 144 foreign countries that have dispatched delegates to study New Orleans since Katrina, including: 22 more visitors arriving Aug. 13-19 from countries including Syria, Serbia, and Senegal and South Africa.
“New Orleans is serving as an excellent case study in so many areas for so many international visitors, because in reality, they can relate to us, our problems and our strong commitment to our community,” says Jeanne Foster, program coordinator for the New Orleans Citizen Diplomacy Council (www.nocdc.com).
There are no major events on the city’s calendar between “Dirty Linen Night” Aug. 9, and the third anniversary of Katrina, Aug. 29.
A Katrina Olympics would be more fun and could add urgency to city efforts to upgrade the New Orleans Recreation Department. “We have 105 NORD recreation areas and many are still in need of attention since Hurricane Katrina,” Council President Arnie Fielkow says.
By setting up workshops with the construction industry and trade unions, teens could learn how to maintain NORD property or build bleachers, concession stands and tents for Olympic “villages” in needy neighborhoods. Chefs, musicians and artisans could show kids how to make and sell art, food, music, crafts and costumes.
To ensure security, an Olympic Committee of local leaders could invite Louisiana law enforcement to compete with prison athletes in charitable games for local kids.
Competitions could include events such as beach volleyball, weightlifting, chess, horseshoes, soccer, swimming, and track and field events – like the 100-yard dash.
Most Louisiana law enforcement agenies already field teams for the national Police Olympics and charitable Torch Runs. Angola state prison Warden Burl Cain already hosts an annual Elderly Olympiad for inmates, ages 50 and up, with events ranging from a “Ping-Pong walk” to a three-legged race. Angola also has a vaunted amateur boxing program and the inmates in the Dale Carneige club boast the best slow-pitch softball team in the state penal system.
(Of course, there would be Olympic rules and drug testing.)
Businesses could be reminded of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in enhanced state tax credits and bonding available for hiring ex-offenders.
Consider the local luminaries you could invite for a local Olympics committee:
Sports promoter Doug Thornton organized the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at City Park in 1992, among other national events. Retiring Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero would emphasize the importance of alternatives to incarceration, during this Centennial year of the Orleans Parish Juvenile District Court. Rev. John Raphael, an influential minister in Central City, played on an NOPD basketball team managed by Sgt. Fields. Community activist Norris Henderson once coached the dynastic Angola (prison) Jaycee Raiders, whose “Super Bowl” victory was featured in a NFL Films feature documentary in 2001.
Time is short.
If ideas have legs, it will be a sprint for a local Olympics, but do-able as Maj. Holman or Sgt. Fields once showed. Foster of the Citizen Diplomacy Council (529-1509) says visitors from 22 countries may have some free time over the weekend of Aug. 16. Yes, she says, maybe they’ll want to kick a soccer ball around …
Countries that have sent a total of more than 600 visitors here since Katrina.