Schutze Defends Kunkle, and That's No Crime

On Tuesday, D magazine editor and publisher Wick Allison made invidious comparisons between Los Angeles police chief William Bratton and our own chief, David Kunkle. Based on his belief that L.A. crime rates have been plummeting while ours have not, Allison wrote on FrontBurner: "David Kunkle may be a nice guy, but our results don't even come close. Maybe this week Kunkle ought to be in L. A. sitting at Bratton's feet."

As I reveal in a well-written, insightful and ineffably persuasive column that appears in this week's Dallas Observer our own rates actually have come down quite nicely this year, in spite of my own prediction earlier this year that our rates were going to spike upward.

In recent days we also have learned that Houston's crime rates have been doing, as Borat might say, not so much. While our murders went down by more than six percent, Houston's went up by more than 13 percent -- a spike Mayor Bill White attributes to the influx of Katrina evacuees.

Last week, The New York Times published a piece about the lengths New Orleans is going to, all very sub rosa and unspoken, to avoid rebuilding the public housing units where many of the still-displaced evacuees lived before Katrina.

I remind us all that Kunkle, along with Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, sort of put their safety patrol hands in the air and blew the whoa-whistle right after Katrina in order to impose a limit on the number of evacuees welcomed to Dallas. That was at a time when Bill White was on TV saying the door to Houston was wide open.

Murder is a national problem, of course, and other cities will fool themselves badly if they think Katrina and its victims can explain or be blamed for all that. But the fact remains that New Orleans does seem to have a very scary preeminence in the killing biz.

If the murder rate now in New Orleans holds at current levels over the next six months, it will hit a 12-month-level of eight to 12 times the national average, according to an Associated Press story yesterday. That will be up from a current rate seven to 10 times the national average.

The AP reports that a recent door-to-door survey by the State of Louisiana estimated New Orleans' population at 200,000, down from a pre-storm figure of about 455,000. Peter Scharf, executive director of the Center for Society, Law and Justice at the University of New Orleans, is quoted: "What's amazing is that the homicide rate increased over the astronomic rate we had directly prior to Katrina and the two years previously. It jumped from 54 to 56 per 100,000, to 75 in the first eight months of 2005. Now we have another jump to 81 per 100,000, assuming a 200,000 population base."

Scharf predicts the Big Easy may top out at 105 murders per 100,000. National fgures won't be ready for months, but the previous No. 1 rate per 100,000 was Compton, California, with 67.

This is painful for me on two levels -- knee-jerk liberalism plus not wanting to say positive things about Laura Miller lately -- but it looks to me like Kunkle and Miller were right. And it looks to me like we are benefitting from their wisdom at this moment. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky