Posted on September 18, 2006

Gov.: New Orleans Crime Calls For Military Presence

AP, September 16, 2006

New Orleans, Louisiana — National Guard troops and state police will patrol the city through December, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Saturday at a summit of law enforcement officials and crime experts called to address a spate of killings marring the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

“Crime has no role in recovery,” Blanco said. “It limits our ability to recover.”

Police are on pace to recover as many illegal firearms this year as they did in the two previous years — even though half as many people live in the city now, said Robert Browning, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

But in a positive sign, court and prison repairs should be done next month, an official said, which means the city’s crippled criminal justice system will be able to process its influx of suspects more efficiently.

The summit opened hours after an early morning killing brought the city’s homicide count for the year to 100.

New Orleans, with a pre-Katrina population of 455,000, had virtually no crime in the months after the storm hit on August 29, 2005, when the city was largely empty.

That changed as the evacuees started returning. In April murders began occurring regularly, sometimes in groups. The current population is uncertain, though various estimates put it at 200,000 to 250,000.

Guard members and state police were sent to New Orleans shortly after what police called one of the city’s worst acts of violence in 10 years: the fatal shooting of five teenagers in mid-June.

Over Labor Day weekend, four people died in 13 shootings in the New Orleans area.

The Guard members and state troopers have helped bolster a police department whose membership fell after the storm by more than 200 to about 1,420. Blanco said the cost to the state will be about $14 million.

On Saturday, the governor called the use of troops and state police a stopgap measure to help safeguard the city while other means to deal with crime are developed.

The summit shows the city will no longer tolerate crime, Mayor Ray Nagin said.

“Any crime committed with a gun should be charged at the highest possible count, attempted murder at a minimum,” Nagin said. “And all those crimes must be expedited, put to the front of the line and prosecuted.”