On Monday, two days after a triple homicide bloodied the 3300 block of Banks Street in Mid-City, crime scene technicians were still on the scene recovering casings from a shootout that sent nearly 100 bullets tearing through the leafy, residential street, horrifying neighbors.
The New Orleans Police Department investigates a triple homicide in the 3300 block of Banks Street on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.
That night, about 40 shaken residents showed up to a meeting of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization at Warren Easton High School to demand answers from newly promoted First District Capt. Kendrick Allen, whose first week on the job was book-ended by triple homicides — first, the three found slain inside a house near the Fair Grounds, then the murders in Mid-City.
Among them was a resident who witnessed what she described as an “orchestrated, methodical” attack involving multiple vehicles and assailants who continued shooting victims as they lay wounded on the ground. The woman, who asked for anonymity because she fears retribution from the killers, wants to know why an arrest hasn’t been made, why police hadn’t requested surveillance footage from her house, and what would be done differently to prevent violent crimes from happening again. The gunmen remain at large.
“There were three victims, and who knows how many perpetrators?” she asked Allen. “My thought is, where is the shooter? Is he going to come back? What is being done to protect us in the area? We’re sick of it. We’re terrified.”
Violence mounts in Mid-City
Connecting Uptown, downtown and the suburbs via arterial roads, Mid-City is the oak-lined nexus through which many metro area residents regularly pass. It is also one of the neighborhoods that has seen a material increase in gun violence over the last three years. While the city as a whole saw an uptick in murders in each of those years, the rate at which killings increased in Mid-City outpaced the rest of the city. Last year, it rose nearly twice as fast.
In 2022, there were 11 murders in the neighborhood, compared to an average of less than 6 each year in the preceding decade. There were as many victims in Saturday’s slaying on Banks Street as the whole neighborhood saw in all of 2019, when murder rates in New Orleans hit a historic low.
Michelle Schlafly, a lifelong New Orleanian, says she’s never experienced a crime wave quite like this.
Mid-City “was stolen car central in 1997, but we also had a Police Department then. We actually saw a response. There is no response now,” said Schlafly, who woke up Monday to the sight of shattered car windows up and down her street. “It’s exhausting to continue to have to be a watchdog.”
Break-ins and shootings
Nonfatal shootings in Mid-City are also near a decadelong high. Police responded to 10 last year. From 2012 through 2020, there were between 3 and 7 shootings each year.
There are big jumps in property crimes too.
Michael Sturt vacuums broken glass that was trapped behind the inside panel of the passenger side door on his Volkswagen Golf, after his car and those of his neighbors were burglarized in the Mid-City area of New Orleans. In an effort to deter break-ins during large events, a City Council committee has endorsed a proposal to require on-site attendants at private parking lots.
For example, police were called to 794 vehicle break-ins in Mid-City last year, 85% more than in 2021. As recently as 2017, there were fewer than 100 such calls each year.
New Orleans City Council member Lesli Harris, whose district includes the area, said she suspects there is a direct connection between car break-ins like the one by Schlafly’s house and the uptick in gun violence.
“From what district commanders have told me, people are breaking into cars looking for guns. … The car break-ins are yielding guns that are used in shootings like (the triple homicide on Banks Street),” she said.
At Broad Glass, a Mid-City auto glass repair shop, customer Mike Trahan agreed with that assessment Monday as he paid the $202.68 bill to fix the window of his 2018 GMC truck, shattered the previous night in a break-in. “That’s the way they mostly get guns,” he said. “About 1 out of 10 cars has a gun in it, probably.”
Owner Jack Duffard estimates his crew repairs 15 broken car windows a day and three or four commercial business doors a month due to break-ins.
“Some days the phone rings nonstop from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with people trying to get quotes,” said Duffard. “We see some people twice a week, because sometimes (criminals) do the same block over again.”
The specter of grisly killings
A collection of flowers and a cross with a halo are seen at the location where the body of Linda Frickey was recovered after she was carjacked and dragged to her death yesterday on N. Pierce St. in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Mid-City residents say they are frustrated by the repeated property crimes but are most profoundly affected by the loss of their neighbors to senseless violence.
One mile from the triple homicide scene on Banks Street, a sun-bleached memorial of artificial flowers and a rebar cross stands testament to the place where Linda Frickey, 73, died after being dragged and dismembered by four teen carjackers on a sunny afternoon last March. That street abuts a retail parking lot where Jimmy John’s employee James Kelly, 17, was shot and killed in October.
Directly across North Carrollton Avenue in the thoroughfare’s 400 block, Oliver Brown, 17, was shot dead in his vehicle in the Winn-Dixie parking lot last month.
In the Banks Street triple homicide, the victims were targeted, according to police. But that doesn’t make the killings any less frightening or dangerous for residents, City Council member Joe Giarrusso III said.
“It is clear we must first prioritize preventing these serious, deadly crimes everywhere,” Giarusso said in an emailed statement.
To that end, Allen told residents he has implemented proactive patrols in the First District, deploying every officer, from community liaison officers to detectives, to data-designated crime hotspots.
NOPD Captain Michelle Woodfork, the new interim police superintendent, talks at a press conference led by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, back left, at New Orleans City Hall on Tuesday, December 20, 2022.
Interim NOPD Superintendent Michelle Woodfork also told WWL-TV on Tuesday that she has deployed a new city-wide unit focused on violent offenders. “After such a violent week, two weeks, we couldn’t wait,” she said. “We had to start doing things now.”
Led by the Special Operations Division, the new unit will act as a mobile and proactive force that will focus on crime hotspots, Woodfork said. It includes officers from the Violent Crime Abatement Investigation Team, the K-9 unit, the traffic unit and the intelligence unit.
“All of those people are going to be working in tandem, together, in these different areas where the data is telling us these violent crimes are happening,” she said.
The Mid-City Security District also plans to beef up patrols by hiring two private security officers to assist the off-duty NOPD officers who currently patrol the area, according to Bob Rivarde, a member of the Mid-City Security District Board of Commissioners. Each Mid-City homeowner pays $195 per year to fund the security district, for a total budget of about $1 million.
Mid-City Neighborhood Organization president Thomas Ecker urged locals to get involved in crime-fighting by participating in civic organizations, running for office or joining the police force. Allen urged all residents to install security cameras and connect them to SafeCam NOLA. Harris implored locals to secure their guns.
“If we have aggressive, proactive but constitutional patrols, we can get criminals off the street before they commit the crime,” Allen said at the meeting Monday night. “We cannot continue to use the (NOPD) manpower shortage as an excuse. … We’re all in this fight together.”
Jeff Adelson and Mike Perlstein contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: Earlier versions of this article misspelled the last name of Joe Giarrusso III.