Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Desire Terrorist

'The Murder Capital of America'

New Orleans, LA map
New Orleans, LA map

During her short life, Kim Marie Groves was one of just 485,000 other citizens of New Orleans, known only to her family and a few close friends. In death, she became a martyr. The violent end she met came to symbolize police brutality at its worst case scenario. She was a cause celebré for police reform. Her murder was one of the major catalysts that shook the New Orleans Police Department to its core and helped lead to a much-needed shakedown that would weed out the bad apples from one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the nation.

In 1994, the year of the Groves murder, New Orleans attained the unwanted distinction of being "The Murder Capital of America." Between January 1 and December 31, four hundred and twenty-one homicide victims gave the Crescent City the highest per capita murder rate in the nation. Even though the largest percentage of these killings were "black-on-black" murders in the city's housing projects and other "bad neighborhoods," the numbers were scaring off tourists and conventions. Following the oil bust of the mid-1980s, tourism became New Orleans's major industry. City officials and community business leaders, both black and white, were justifiably alarmed that a valuable tax base would be lost if the murder rate continued unchecked. Their fears were not eased by an October 30, 1994, "60 Minutes" segment on CBS that tarred the city's reputation for having the highest rate of police brutality in the U.S.

Mayor Marc Morial
Mayor Marc Morial

New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, who had taken office in May of that year, took vehement exception to the "60 Minutes" report, calling it "as stale as a six-month-old loaf of French bread." He maintained that the statistics Mike Wallace cited dated back to the previous administration. Several of those interviewed for the "60 Minutes" segment were disgruntled ex-cops with axes to grind, but the fact that these former officers were, themselves, corrupt didn't help matters any. So, despite the mayor's bravado and his challenge to CBS to "come and look at what we're doing here now," large and small organizations continued to boycott New Orleans. Many of them cancelled their plans for holding conventions there, despite the city's world famous wealth of food, entertainment and historic attractions. Potential tourists were routed by travel agents and word of mouth to "safer" Southern cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Atlanta and Orlando.

Throughout his first five months in office, Morial retained the police superintendent who had been appointed by his predecessor, while he launched a nationwide search for a chief who could shake up NOPD and set it on the road to reform. Finally, on October 13, 1994, he announced his long and anxiously awaited selection: Assistant Police Chief Richard J. Pennington of the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department.

Pennington's appointment was greeted with enthusiasm by the city's business community and its law-abiding citizenry who had been living in daily fear for their lives. Over his 26-year law enforcement career in the nation's capital, Pennington had acquired a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense, but low-profile and fair-minded cop. He held out the promise of bringing a vast store of knowledge of the latest crime-fighting techniques to the New Orleans police force, along with the modern technological savvy needed to upgrade a woefully behind-the-times department.

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