A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao-tzu
Though I’m sure the significance of the date was lost on New Orleans City Council members, it’s appropriate that the virtual cessation of New Orleans’ decades-long war on whores was announced to the public on December 17th. Yes, you read that correctly: Though the city stopped short of decriminalization, it decided to classify prostitution, marijuana possession and a few other misdemeanors as municipal offences, meaning police can write a ticket for them instead of making an arrest. And while cops will still have the option to arrest hookers if they please, it’s likely they will be discouraged from doing so because the move was intended to cut costs, reduce crowding in Orleans Parish Prison and unclog courts. This also means escort stings will likely become a thing of the past in New Orleans; can you imagine their setting up an expensive operation just to write a girl a ticket?
The following is paraphrased from an article in the Times-Picayune:
In order to reduce the dockets in Criminal District Court and give police more time to deal with real crimes, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday to designate prostitution, marijuana possession, and two other minor crimes as municipal offenses, giving police the option to issue a summons rather than make an arrest. If you get picked up for marijuana possession or prostitution in New Orleans, police no longer will have to arrest you and take you to jail.
Until now, these activities have only been illegal under state laws, so police had to arrest offenders and take them to Central Lockup for booking. But because a summons is prosecuted in Municipal Court rather than Criminal District Court, the change will reduce the caseload of the judges and prosecutors who handle serious crimes. And because those accused of such offences will no longer be jailed, even for a few hours, the city will be spared the expense of housing and feeding them and the lives of the accused will not be needlessly disrupted, council members said. Councilwoman Susan Guidry, co-chairwoman of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, called the changes “an important step in increasing the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of our criminal justice system.”
The four crimes involved are:
Prostitution, defined as “indiscriminate sexual intercourse with others … for compensation,” and soliciting someone for prostitution.
Possession of “marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol or chemical derivatives thereof, or synthetic cannabinoids” unless the substance was “obtained directly or pursuant to a valid prescription or order from a practitioner.”
“Flight from an officer” by the operator of a motor vehicle or boat if a police officer has used an emergency light and siren to signal the operator to stop.
“Interfering with a law enforcement investigation” by refusing to move or leave the scene of a crime or accident when ordered to do so by police.
Guidry said the new city laws mirror the state laws covering the same misdemeanors, including identical maximum penalties: a $500 fine and/or six months in jail. The idea of making these four crimes municipal offenses was backed by all segments of the criminal justice system, including judges, prosecutors and the police, Guidry said; she quoted Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas as saying the change is “not being soft on crime but smart on crime.” She also pointed out that such cases can be prosecuted more quickly in Municipal Court than in Criminal District Court, where District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro found more than 1,000 marijuana cases “clogging the dockets” when he took office in 2008. At his initiative, marijuana-possession cases already are being tried in Municipal Court, but the new law means that prosecution of those cases now can be shifted from the district attorney’s office to the city attorney’s office.
Thursday’s actions continue a drive started by the previous City Council to reduce the number of people arrested and taken to jail, with the aim of saving the city money and freeing police officers to concentrate on arresting violent criminals. In April 2008, the council passed two ordinances directing officers to issue a written summons instead of arresting and booking people found to have outstanding traffic tickets and people who were stopped for most nonviolent municipal offenses (including disturbing the peace, trespassing, making threats, urinating in public, playing loud music and public intoxication). At the time, the Metropolitan Crime Commission said that half of the 58,219 arrests in New Orleans during 2007 were for municipal or traffic offenses, meaning the Police Department was wasting precious resources on minor offenses; it can take an officer as long as two hours to book someone, and the person is often released from jail within hours even if he can’t make bail, the council was told.
Since the new ordinances of 2008, the Police Department has doubled the proportion of summonses issued in municipal cases, releasing cops to spend more time on the streets. One exception is public intoxication, because officers are instructed to arrest anyone who is a possible danger to himself or others; to address that issue and reduce the numbers of drunks booked into jail, officials are considering the establishment of a “sobering center” where an inebriate could sleep off intoxication and perhaps get help for substance abuse (though he could still be issued a court summons on discharge). Other cities do this successfully, said a city legal advisor, and the state might even pay for up to seven days of care for addicts.
This is several years too late to help me, but I still find it immensely satisfying considering that for literally decades freethinkers have been pointing out the colossal waste of resources resulting from consensual crime prosecutions. Of course, the politicians have to pretend it was their idea, but let them do so if it results in the right thing being done. Similarly, if it’s economic issues which force this type of move then so be it; the important thing is New Orleans whores of all levels can breathe more easily now, and it’s likely that the sick little “crime against nature” game will vanish as well because the city can no longer afford to subsidize cops’ sadistic pleasures at streetwalkers’ expense.
I’d like to point out a few things I noticed in the story; first, prostitution is defined as “indiscriminate sexual intercourse with others … for compensation,” which technically means I never prostituted myself in Louisiana because I was not indiscriminate in my customer selection. Yes, I know that’s splitting hairs, but it does support the point I made in my column of December 16th about the definition of prostitution being extremely difficult to pin down. Second, notice that marijuana possession is called a “minor crime” (how the feds must hate that!) and the DA doesn’t bother to disguise the fact that he clearly considers marijuana prosecutions a court-clogging nuisance he would prefer to dispense with. Third (and most importantly), I see this move as symptomatic of a larger trend; cash-strapped jurisdictions all over the United States, tired of the endless “mandates” from higher levels of government which force them to waste precious resources on things which shouldn’t even be crimes in the first place, are thinking of clever ways to avoid having to do the higher government’s dirty work. It’s a wonderfully subversive trend, and I hope it becomes much more popular in the next few years.