Guard troops to stay in New Orleans through December


By MARY FOSTER
Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS- National Guard troops and state police will patrol New Orleans 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 Aug. 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 the Labor Day holiday 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 (euro11 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."

The city also needs to crack down on illegal firearms, Browning said. In 2004 and '05, police recovered about 1,800 illegal firearms per year, he said.

"So far they this year they have recovered 1,300," Browning said. "Which is on track to remove the same number with half the population."

Also Saturday, former state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, head of a commission Nagin set up to examine criminal justice, said renovations of the criminal court and parish prison should be completed next month.

Twelve criminal court judges are now sharing seven courtrooms, and so only seven can hear cases at any time. And each can handle no more than six cases a day because the sheriff's department cannot transport and provide security for more.

"Once we have the building back, all of us can hold court every day," Judge Calvin Johnson said.

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