Suppose for a moment that we could successfully pierce the veil that conceals the operations within our government from public view. If we could achieve complete transparency, one could argue that the accountability component becomes less necessary. That’s because public officials tend to act more appropriately when their conduct is visible. While we have been harping on these points in local government systems for some time, you may be interested to know we aren’t harping alone. It just so happens that a notable government task force agrees with us.
By the way, here at Citizens for a New Louisiana our core mission is transparency and accountability in government. That’s one reason we were so enthusiastic to read a recent draft report of the Louisiana Violent Crime Task Force. Released in December of 2023, the Task Force submitted five recommendations to our legislature for consideration. The first of these directly concerns transparency. The report reads:
“The Task Force recognizes the need for more data and information regarding the various functions of the criminal justice system as well as the need for greater transparency for the public as to what is happening in the criminal justice system on a day-to-day level. The Task Force hereby recommends that the legislature craft legislation to address these serious needs, make this information more accessible to victims and the public, and find additional ways to prioritize data gathering and sharing amongst our law enforcement agencies and courts across this state to be able to rely upon accurate and comprehensive data to improve and strengthen our criminal justice system well into the future. The Task Force also hereby recommends that the legislature craft legislation to protect and empower our victims throughout the criminal justice process, including ensuring that victims have access to all relevant information, that they receive timely notifications prior to actions taken affecting them, including pardon and parole hearings, and that the victims’ rights and services are placed well ahead of the convicted criminals who victimized them.”
That’s quite a charge handed down from the Task Force. Now it’s time for our legislature to act!
Someone heard our noise in the wilderness
This is a drum we have been beating for all seven years of our organization’s existence. Our noise coupled with the voices of many concerned citizens across the state hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. The Task Force has taken notice that there is a need for more transparency in our criminal justice system. Now will our legislators take the torch and enact meaningful changes in this area?
We have consistently called out the bad actors in our state and local governments who have obstructed our efforts to obtain public information. There has been an increased focus on criminal justice-related matters lately due to this segment’s recent shift to anti-transparency patterns and practices. Instead of providing more latitude to solve crime, these practices have resulted in a greater distrust of the system. That’s because it’s incredibly difficult to solve problems if our officials refuse to admit their existence.
Obstruction of Data by Local Law Enforcement Agencies
Most of the problems with transparency in government don’t start in Baton Rouge. Yes, you do have the occasional bad bills (HB473 and HB729 by Royce Duplessis [D 1/10]) which created additional obstacles and problems for accessing public records. However, the practices of our local officials are just as much to blame.
Local Government Likes It Dark was a piece we published in December of 2022. There we recapped Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber’s refusal to disclose arrest warrants. This information was previously publicly available on his website and routinely highlighted in the department’s own social media posts. When we researched Lafayette Violent Crime: What’s The Problem? we were again initially denied access to public records by Sheriff Garber.
We also pointed out that Lafayette Consolidated Government was less than cooperative with providing the initial reports for unsolved homicides. LCG actually paid an outside firm to modify the initial report format (to be more vague) and restrict its release to the public. In the Violent Crime Task Force’s meeting in October, Lafayette was mentioned by name as not reporting crime data through the Louisiana Incident-Based Reporting System (LIBRS). That lumps in Lafayette’s lack of transparency with the likes of Shreveport and New Orleans!
Other Task Force Items
The Task Force also reported other topics of importance for the legislature to address. Namely, violent juvenile crime, the use of firearms by violent criminals, rehabilitation practices, and the shortage of Law Enforcement Officers in the state. These are all significant issues that demand the attention of our legislature and all public officials who work within the criminal justice system. While our legislature is in the best position to enact statewide reforms, a top-down approach is not always best. It is important that our legislature not put more obstacles in place that would further hinder the local operations of a fragile criminal justice system.
Locally, the situation could best be compared to a four-legged stool. That stool consists of policing, corrections, prosecution, and the courts. When one leg is shorter than the others, the stool becomes unstable. When one leg is weak or compromised it threatens the integrity of the other legs. This creates an unpredictable and dangerous situation for any person who must sit on the stool. Many weaknesses are due to the practices of those holding elective or appointed roles in our local system. That’s something our state legislature has little or no control over.
Thanks to our law enforcement partners, we’ve been able to identify several surprising contributors to local violent crime. Stay tuned and we will explore how those four legs are holding up locally.