Guard to aid New Orleans

Amid rising crime, mayor asks for help patrolling streets

June 20, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW ORLEANS --In a blunt admission that the city can no longer control its growing crime problem, Mayor Ray Nagin asked the state yesterday to send National Guard troops to help patrol the streets of New Orleans.

Hours later, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said that 100 troops, joined by 60 state police officers, would be on duty in the city as early as today. More are likely to arrive later in the week.

Five teenagers were shot to death with semiautomatic weapons in the Central City neighborhood while sitting in a sport-utility vehicle Saturday morning. It was the deadliest shooting in the city in 11 years and raised the homicide tool for the year to 53.

In recent weeks, as crime has increased and the Police Department has struggled to return to its strength from before Hurricane Katrina, many politicians, editorial writers and residents have asked for outside help, a move that Nagin appeared to acknowledge was necessary as he asked for 300 Guard troops yesterday.

"We vow to do whatever it takes in the short and long term to make this a safer city," he said. Later in the day, he said, "This is our line in the sand."

The city's Police Department has seemed ineffective at curbing a rise in drug-related violence and rampant looting - mostly in poor neighborhoods and sparsely populated areas - even though there are almost as many officers on the force these days as there were before Hurricane Katrina struck, and the city's population of 220,000 is less than half its former size.

Still, the department has not bounced back from the storm. It has suffered sharp budget cuts, is low on supplies such as ammunition and continues to wrestle with its tarnished reputation. The police lost control of the city when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina, and, although many officers performed their duties under extraordinary circumstances, more than 200 walked away. Others were accused of participating in the mayhem.

Warren J. Riley, the police chief, said he requested additional law enforcement help months ago in anticipation of a summertime population increase. Nagin's announcement after a weekend of high crime was a coincidence, he said.

Riley said during a news conference that his force is capable of controlling crime and that the request did not undermine him or the Police Department. But his inconsistent remarks during the day reflected the difficulty his department has had in recent months.

"With the appropriate resources, we will have this city under control," he said, moments after saying, "This is not a situation where anything is out of control."

The Guard will focus on patrolling the neighborhoods that were most damaged in the flood and are still largely uninhabited, Riley said. That will free as many as 300 police officers, who had been patrolling for looters, to concentrate on crime in the heavily populated areas of the city.

There will be no National Guard presence in downtown New Orleans, the French Quarter or any other heavily populated area, Riley said.

Residents in the most heavily damaged parts of the city, including Lakeview and eastern New Orleans, where the looting of flooded homes has been especially acute, have been asking city officials for more protection for months.

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