New Orleans Understates Looting

UPI, Feb. 7, 2006

NEW ORLEANS—Much of the looting that was shown on TV newscasts and in newspaper photographs after Hurricane Katrina has vanished from New Orleans police reports.

The New Orleans Police Department has used a special code, 21K, to designate property that disappeared during or after the storm as “lost or stolen,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune said. Possible crimes with that designation do not show up in the city’s crime statistics.

The 21K designation has been used for 62 percent of the missing property complaints made in the city since Katrina struck in late August.

In some cases, police may have a point. Many houses, stores and other buildings were flooded, and property could have been carried away by the rising water.

But critics say police are overusing the classification, applying it in parts of the city that did not flood, in buildings that were broken into after the floodwaters receded or in cases where burglary was clearly involved.

Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the University of New Orleans, said that tinkering with the numbers makes planning for the next catastrophe harder.

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