Problems and Purpose
Responding to persistently high homicide levels in New Orleans, in 2012, the city’s mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu formed NOLA for Life, a program aimed at using a public health approach to combating violence. In addition to large shifts in policing tactics, this plan included community listening sessions, during which community members testified to the root causes of violence that they saw in their neighborhoods: education quality, the lack of job opportunities, access to basic services, among other issues. These findings and stories were used by the cross-departmental committee behind NOLA for Life to craft public policy that would prevent the spread of violence. For the first years after implementation, murders rates have decreased.
Background History and Context
New Orleans has long had one of the highest murder rates per capita in the United States. In 1994, homicides hit their historic peak at 421.[i] But into the 21st century, they remained elevated—particularly affecting the city’s African-American population. Building on similar initiatives, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods, NOLA for Life takes a public health approach to combating violence in New Orleans, contextualizing the violence as a symptom of larger social problems.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
After conversations with Federal-level organizations, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, the planning of NOLA for Life was led by the Mayor’s office[xv] with design help from the city’s Innovation Delivery Team.[ix] Judy Morse, the mayor’s chief of staff, brought together Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo, and Criminal Justice Commissioner James Carter.[xvi] This effort arose out of the magnitude of the violence as well as the growing image of the city as “killing fields” that were effecting development and other aspects of city-life.[xvii]
These city government stakeholders also reached out to community residents and community and religious organizations in the city in listening sessions to identify target problems. At the Federal level, the city worked with the Centers for Disease Control to learn more about similar programs in other US cities.[xviii]
Due to the multi-pronged approach to violence prevention, implementation took place within various city departments but was planned and overseen by the NOLA for Life core team—consisting representatives from various government entities at the city level, including officials from Mayor Landrieu, and federal level, as well as some community members representing youth and the school system.[xix]
The NOLA for Life Fund, managed by the Great New Orleans Foundation, was initiated by a $1 million contribution for Chevron and $250,000 from the Wisner fund to support community interventions.[xi]
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The core team facilitated 18 listening sessions, which were open to the public, across the city in addition to community specific talks and a Youth Violence Prevention Summit. These events were invited “focus groups with small groups of young people; round- tables with stakeholders in areas such as school mental health, juvenile justice, and out-of-school time; and larger discussions with community partners.”[xii]
Mayor Landrieu also hosted a two-day community symposium to get community input on larger issues that drive the city’s violence—race, equity, education, income inequality, and the criminal justice system.
Participation levels have been high, and despite recent raising murder rates, the program has been view as somewhat of a success. For instance, in 2015, 650 people participated in the Midnight Basketball season and more than 340 spectators came out to watch.[xiii] Additionally, between July 2014 and October 2015, over 100 felons between the ages of 16 and 35 enrolled in a community re-entry and education program.[xiv]
Methods and Tools Used
Open listening sessions were held across the city and a two-day community symposium was scheduled to get maximal public input on a wide range of issues related to violen such as race, income inequality, and the criminal justice system. Community-specific talks and a Youth Violence Prevention Summit were also use to engage the public and included a variety of participatory techniques such as: “focus groups with small groups of young people; round- tables with stakeholders...and larger discussions with community partners.”[xii]
In addition to community planning meetings, the prime public interaction between city government and participants was through the call-in strategy, in which officials brought groups of potential offenders, identified by NOPD internal data, in to talk with the mayor and police chief among other community leaders to tell them there were opportunities available to them through community resources. However, if they choose violence, they’d be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Implementation of NOLA for Life began in 2012. After the city experienced 199 murders in 2011, New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu announced this new initiative that sought to address the city’s homicides as a public health problem. Landrieu stressed the “greatest tool we have in our fight against violence in New Orleans is the collective power of all our people.”[iii] How do you prevent the spread of violence from person to person? In an effort to treat the cause rather than the symptoms, in other words, the city government broadened its outlook from focusing on strictly anti-violence measures to community building and collaboration across agencies and the public.[iv] More specifically, the initiative sought to accomplish five components:
- Stop the Shootings
- Invest in Prevention
- Promote Jobs and Opportunity
- Get Involved and Rebuild Neighborhoods
- Improve the NOPD
In order to do so, city officials outlined 33 strategies laid out in the NOLA for Life Playbook. Some of those strategies included better street lighting, setting up positive parenting programs, honoring community partners who prevent violence, and implementing a workforce development plan to provide greater economic opportunity to youth. [v]
The city government has set up initiatives at a variety of levels—individual, inter-relational, community, and societal—to engage its citizens and diagnose the city’s residents’ ills. In the city with a history of high murder rates, NOLA for Life looks beyond the traditional crime prevention model of increased demonstrations of force by the police. Specific proposals include “promot[ing] positive school climates...expand[ing] recreational opportunities...[and] develop[ing] a mobile application to display social service resources in real time.”[ii] NOLA for Life centralizes the data from these initiatives and uses it to facilitate more focused and effective civic engagement tools for violence prevention.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Murder rates since 2012 declined for the first few years: There were 193 murders in 2012, 156 in 2013, 150 in 2014. However, in 2015, the rate increased to 163 murders. As of September 2016, there have been 127 murders, slightly less than at the same time last year for the city.[xx]
Since its enactment, NOLA for Life has created some tangible vehicles for community engagement. There are 29 programs that fall under the funding umbrella of NOLA for Life.[vi] For instance, in 2015, 650 people participated in the midnight basketball program, which to games includes a community-based mentoring program.[vii] A stated goal of the program is to have 95% of youth to feel safe in their neighborhoods and schools by 2020.[xxi]
NOLA for Life was influenced by a growing scholarship that connects larger societal issues associated with poverty with the spread of violence. Notably, Operation Ceasefire and Ceasefire Chicago were implemented previously in Boston and Chicago respectively.[xxii]
Analysis and Lessons Learned
- Major Landreiu has been criticized for using “community engagement” solutions to avoid a conversation about gun control measures and a focus on illegal guns.
- Funds distributed to some community organizations have been squandered and there has been little accountability for these shortcomings.[xxiii]
- “The development of a multiagency task force, combined with unwavering political support from the highest levels of government within the city, were likely linked to high programmatic fidelity.”[xxiv]
Citizen Participation Program (CPP)
[i] “New Orleans Murder Rate on the Rise Again.” Msnbc.com, August 18, 2005. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8999837/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/new-orle....
[ii] The City of New Orleans Health Department. The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans, 2013.
[iii] Jarvis DeBerry, “Mitch Landrieu's sermon about stopping violence in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2016/04/landrieu_violence_speech.html
[iv] The City of New Orleans Health Department. The NOLA for Life Playbook
[v] The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans.
[vi] “Murder Mystery: Can New Orleans Control Its Homicide Rate?” Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-new-orleans-ho....
[vii] “Midnight Baskeball Reaches Milestone.” Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.nolaforlife.org/media/20150916-midnight-baskeball-reaches-mil....
[ix] “NOLA for Life Architect Talks Murder Reduction in Extended Interview.” NOLA.com. Accessed November 16, 2016. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/06/nola_for_life_architect_t....
[x] The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans.
[xi] “NOLA for Life Grantee Fails to Live up to Promise of Building Publicly-Financed Community Center.” The Lens. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://thelensnola.org/2013/06/05/nola-for-life-grantee-fails-to-live-up....
[xii] The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans.
[xiii] “Midnight Baskeball Reaches Milestone” Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.nolaforlife.org/media/20150916-midnight-baskeball-reaches-mil....
[xiv] Richard Webster, “NOLA For Life re-entry program awarded $825,000 grant,“ New Orleans Time Picayune. Accessed January 25, 2017. http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/10/nola_for_life_re-entry_progr...
[xv] The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans.
[xvi] Michelle Krupa, “’NOLA For Life’ murder-reduction plan highlights Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s State of the City speech,” The Times Picayune. Accessed January 25, 2017. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/05/nola_for_life_murder-redu....
[xvii] DuBois, Joshua. “Shutting Down America’s Killing Fields.” POLITICO Magazine. Accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/gun-violence-mayors-10438....
[xviii] The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans.
[xx] New Orleans Police Department- Crime Data. (2016). Retrieved December 22, 2016, from http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/crime_police/article_24cb6a2...
[xxi] The NOLA for Life Playbook: A Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence in New Orleans.
[xxiii] “NOLA for Life Grantee Fails to Live up to Promise of Building Publicly-Financed Community Center.”
[xxiv] Nicholas Corsaro, and Robin S. Engel. “Most Challenging of Contexts.” Criminology & Public Policy 14, no. 3 (2015): 1–35.
“NOLA for Life · City of New Orleans.” http://www.nolaforlife.org/
“NOPD - Crime Data - Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) - City of New Orleans.” Accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.nola.gov/nopd/crime-data/crime-stats/.
“Strategy: Group Violence Intervention.” National Network for Safe Communities. Accessed November 25, 2016. https://nnscommunities.org/our-work/strategy/group-violence-intervention.