NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced on Thursday 11 arrests in New Orleans, arrests he said were made by the AG’s Violent Crimes Task Force in a campaign to #MakeNewOrleansSafeAgain.
The press release sent to media outlets across the state did not list the names of the people arrested, nor did the press release say on what charges they were booked.
A records request revealed that most of the arrests were marijuana-related – three of the 11 arrests were for possession of marijuana and three were for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. All of the 11 arrests were drug-related, and only two of the people arrested face additional charges for non drug offenses.
Elmore Williams was booked for possession of marijuana and illegal possession of a firearm, and Ray Williams was arrested for possession of marijuana and illegal possession of a stolen vehicle.
The AG’s task force also assisted the New Orleans Police Department with five armed robbery arrests.
But NOPD does not arrest people for possessing 2.5 pounds or less of marijuana. The City Council passed an ordinance in 2016 that softens marijuana penalties and allows for fines instead of criminal action.
You can be arrested for marijuana possession in New Orleans under state law, though NOPD Chief Michael Harrison said his officers stick to the city ordinance and don’t arrest people for simple possession unless a supervisor signs off on it.
Asked whether it was prudent for a Violent Crimes Task Force to arrest people for marijuana in a city where possession of marijuana is punished with a ticket, Landry’s spokeswoman, Ruth Wisher, said the task force investigates and makes arrests “based on many different crimes, ranging from carjackings to drug possession.”
“We cover all crimes in the city,” she said.
But there’s some question – at least by NOPD Chief Harrison – as to whether Landry’s office should be investigating crimes in New Orleans. Harrison sent a letter to Landry Wednesday asserting that “we are aware of no authority that permits you, your employees, or law enforcement agents under your direction to engage in active law enforcement within New Orleans or in general.”
Under the city’s Home Rule Charter, the mayor of New Orleans is the chief law enforcement authority for Orleans Parish, according to Harrison. Landry is the chief law enforcement officer for the state.
Wisher, Landry’s spokeswoman, said the Attorney General’s Office has law enforcement jurisdiction statewide.
Harrison also noted in his letter to Landry that the city is under a federal consent decree, which means policing methods must comply with mandates from the federal government. Landry referred to the mayor’s compliance with the consent decree as “a hug-a-thug crime fighting policy.”
Landry assures the public in the press release that “this is not about politics.”
“Our task force is working tirelessly to ensure those who break the law and commit crimes will be brought to justice,” said Landry. “This is not about politics; my effort is about protecting Louisiana lives and our economy tied to tourism in New Orleans. While my office works to stop crime all over Louisiana, the spike in crime within our state’s largest city is alarming. That is why I announced this initiative and why we are taking action.”
— AG Jeff Landry (@AGJeffLandry) January 6, 2017