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U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican, said the city was “rapidly becoming the murder and armed robbery capital of the Western Hemisphere."
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu knocked a U.S. senator on Wednesday over remarks the congressional lawmaker made about violence in the city.
"We have an extraordinary crime problem in New Orleans," U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said. “We're rapidly becoming the murder and armed robbery capital of the western hemisphere.”
The first-term Republican senator from Louisiana was speaking during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Christopher Wray, who is President Trump’s nominee for FBI director. Kennedy asked if he could count on Wray to “give us a little advice and help.”
“We’re wrestling with a huge crime problem and we’re losing,” he added.
Kennedy’s comments didn’t sit well with Landrieu. “Murder and violence should never become just another political football,” he said in a letter to Kennedy.
The Democratic mayor added that in 1991 there were 345 murders in New Orleans, about twice as many as in 2016. He went on to highlight measures the city was taking to combat crime, some of them involving law enforcement and others focused on areas such as providing job training for young men and connecting children with caseworkers and counseling.
Figures from the New Orleans Police Department show that in the first quarter of 2017 there were 51 murders in the city, compared to 30 in the first quarter of last year. Armed robberies for the first three months of the year totalled 202, compared to 228 for the same timespan in 2016.
Landrieu referred to an earlier letter, which he sent Kennedy in late March, detailing ways the federal government could help reduce crime.
“Not only have you not responded to my letter, but you have not taken one concrete step toward making our city, state, or the nation safer,” he wrote to Kennedy in Wednesday’s letter. “But that should come as no surprise to those who have watched your career over the decades.”
Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after serving five terms as Louisiana’s state Treasurer.
The mayor, in his latest letter to the senator, reiterated ways that he believes Congress could help New Orleans fight crime and terrorism.
Some of his recommendations: expanding funding and eligible uses for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services program, increasing investments in services for people with substance abuse problems or mental illnesses, enacting legislation to reform federal sentencing guidelines and upping funding for programs to support people getting out of prison.
Wray responded to Kennedy’s comments by saying that the senator could count on him, if confirmed as FBI director, to “take a hard look” at how the agency could be more effective in New Orleans, as well as other cities that are affected by violent crime.
Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.