A St. Louis project engineer who was spending a weekend in New Orleans making wedding plans with his fiancee was killed in a burglary-gone-violent on Saturday, a seemingly random killing that has highlighted the city's challenges defeating both its crime rate and the perception that NOLA is unsafe.
Thomas Rolfes left his fiancee, Elizabeth Fried, at their hotel room to go celebrate their recent engagement with friends on Friday night, according to The Advocate. Friends who spent the evening with Mr. Rolfes remain mystified as to how, after leaving the bar early Saturday morning in good health, he ended up on a street several blocks away, having been shot in the chest.
Police believe Rolfes was robbed and then shot based on evidence that his wallet was missing and his hands bore injuries that suggested a struggle, but no one in the area heard a gunshot, and the 25-year-old's family has appealed to anyone with knowledge of the case to inform police.
Rolfe's death marks the 40th murder in New Orleans this year: a disconcerting statistic, but still representing a 33 percent decline in homicides from last year, the third consecutive year of declining crime for the city, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
The number "is still way too high," Superintendent Harrison said, according to the Times-Picayune.
Despite the concern that murders such as Rolfes or Saints defensive end Will Smith rightfully engenders, the city's efforts to clean up the streets are working – but slowly, as Robert Morris reported last year for the Gambit:
From a long-term perspective – even in the medium term since Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood – violent crime in New Orleans is on a downward trend.... In fact, the overall number of armed robberies in New Orleans per capita was squarely in the middle of the pack for other Southern cities with a far less violent reputation than New Orleans – less than Atlanta, Memphis, Birmingham, Alabama, Baton Rouge and Jackson, Mississippi (though more than Nashville, Mobile, Alabama or Austin, Texas).
The last two months however, have been unusually violent, with 59 shootings, though not all fatal, in March and April, the Washington Post reported. The mayor has reiterated the need to continue the work that brought violence down in preceding years, but New Orleans officials contend with not only the rash of crime, but also the perception that the city is unsafe.
"I want people not just to wake up to not just whether they feel safe on one day, but how we have to completely change what we are doing," Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) said in an interview with WDSU anchor Scott Walker.
The city has spent more time on safety than any other single issue during the mayor's time in office, he said, and the number of homicides has declined from a 1996 peak of 450 to 150 last year. Paradoxically, certain neighborhoods remain as dangerous as ever, leading to a belief that the city remains unsafe, and the city's police force is declining in numbers just when they need it the most.
"No matter how much better we’re doing as a city ... you cannot leave this problem to fester because, if for no other reason, it scares the hell out of people," Mayor Landrieu told WDSU.