Police plan to set up checkpoints beginning Wednesday to help curb a crime wave that has claimed nine lives since the start of 2007, Mayor Ray Nagin said, stopping short of imposing a curfew on this tourism-dependent city.
The checkpoints will operate between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., when about a third of the city’s violent crime occurs, and will target drug and alcohol violations as well as motorist insurance. The first one was to be held in a crime-ridden area of the city.
Nagin said the police force would also increase foot patrols, sheriff deputies would supplement the force, and authorities would increase the number of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. Speeding homicide cases through the court system is also part of his plan.
A curfew had been opposed by the city’s tourism leaders, who said it would further hurt businesses struggling since Hurricane Katrina. While Nagin did not declare a curfew, he said the message to citizens was to stay off the streets in high-crime areas and in early morning hours.
Nagin acknowledged the criminal justice breakdown extended beyond the police force and said a corps of volunteers will be recruited to monitor homicide cases moving through the courts. “We’re sending a signal that the system that used to a llow you to commit a murder and there were no consequences is over. It has been easier to commit a murder than another crime in New Orleans,” Nagin said.
Law enforcement officials say the large trailer sites—where about 3,000 people still live in New Orleans—have turned into hot spots for drug dealers, prostitutes and even murderers. FEMA has been very tightlipped about who is living at the sites, which has hindered police work, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens said.
Rachel Rodi, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the “records of applicants for FEMA assistance” cannot be shared, a policy all federal agencies adhere to. However, FEMA turns over information to investigators if they have “a specific, legally sufficient need,” she said.
In the last week more Americans have died in New Orleans than in Iraq. Since Dec. 29, there have been eight military deaths. In the Big Easy, there have been 14 murders.
The killers are growing more brazen, striking in broad daylight and using as sault rifles, even with police just 30 yards away. And witnesses refuse to talk.
“We have a culture, a certain population in this city with an intent on committing violent crime,” says Assistant Superintendent of Police Steven Nicholas. “They feel no repercussion, they have no fear of police.”
New Orleans’ murder rate is 30 percent higher than any other city in the country.
Reasons for the violence are many: Drug dealing, retaliation killings, fewer cops and an overwhelmed legal system.
In retaliation, there’ve been rumblings by some police of a work slow down. But police officials deny cops would let there anger interfere with their duty.
That said, the only persons arrested and charged with homicide in New Orleans in a week have been police officers.
|New Orleans Murder Numbers, 20002006|
|2006||_56 *||– 58.61%|
|* 2005 and 2006 figures are for the first half of the year as 3rd quarter figures for 2005 are unavailable owing to Hurricane Katrina data losses.
Source: New Orleans Police Department