In a seemingly miraculous feat, New Orleans has managed to drop its notorious murder rate by 20 percent this year — to 155 deaths — the lowest number the city has seen in almost 30 years. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t because police got tougher on the streets, but because city officials got organized.
Under Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s NOLA for Life program, launched in 2012 to rethink the city’s murder reduction strategy, New Orleans’ Innovation Delivery Team led the charge in finding new approaches to curb violence.
New Orleans was one of five cities selected for the pilot program, which was funded with a $4.2 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2011. The team was comprised of eight people using the nonprofit’s innovation delivery method, which helps mayors create and implement big solutions to local problems. The team serves as an in-house consultant firm for City Hall while tapping into global resources and experts provided through Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The team worked with the New Orleans’ police department to analyze data relating to murders, while also looking to strategies from other cities such as Memphis, Chicago and New York. It also met with academics to help comb through the data more deeply while hosting focus groups with at-risk young men, providing a new path for a better murder reduction strategy, according to Fast Company.
“The biggest thing that went against common belief is that a lot of our violence was related to groups and gangs,” says Charles West, who lead the innovation delivery team. “We were always told that we didn’t have a gang problem. But we had gangs of significant size, and people just weren’t talking about it. More than anything, there wasn’t a specific form of policing strategy for groups and gangs.”
The team came up with 130 different initiatives to approach the violence problem according to West. NOLA for Life now operates a multi-agency gang unit which has helped the city ramp up prosecution of gangs.
Other initiatives involved agencies such as the Department of Sanitation, which can train and hire ex-prisoners to receive a commercial driver’s license in an effort to prevent recidivism and find a job.
“Everyone has found a place in it … and everyone is accountable,” West says.
But what made it work was the amount of coordination and organized approach in which city officials tackled the problem. If the city continues on this track for reducing its murder rate, it would be the first four years in a row that murders have dropped.
The Big Easy is currently making room so it can continue to fund the program with tax dollars, which will include more initiatives to step up economic opportunities for African-American men. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Philanthropies is expanding the program with $45 million and has called for more than 80 American cities to apply for funding.