By The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS, La. — The city's police chief wants the Louisiana National Guard to stay past its mid-January pullout date to help bring down a soaring crime rate, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco does not have the authority to keep the troops in place after she leaves office.
A new governor takes office Jan. 15, the day after the troops are scheduled to leave.
''I would like to see them stay, at least long enough for us to get one more group through the academy,'' Police Superintendent Warren Riley said Wednesday as he left a legislative hearing on crime.
Violent crime has been a major concern in New Orleans as it slowly recovers from Hurricane Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of the city in August 2005. An estimated 273,000 people live in the city, which had a pre-Katrina population of 455,000.
The 300 guardsmen, who have been helping patrol the city since June 21, 2006, are in the least-populated areas. The troops free up police officers to work the areas of the city with the most people.
The city earned the title of murder capital of the nation in 2006, when 162 people were killed. This year the count stands at 163 with 2 1/2 months remaining.
Riley said he was working on an exit strategy in the event that troops leave as scheduled.
The city recently allocated $4 million for overtime pay to put uniformed New Orleans police officers on duty 12 hours a day across most of the city. The mandatory overtime shifts are scheduled to run until the end of the year.
The department has also beefed up recruitment efforts, and pay has been bolstered to shore up the police department's ranks. The force now has 1,382 officers, down from 1,668 pre-Katrina, Riley said.
The state has spent $30.4 million to keep National Guard troops and state police in New Orleans.
There are four major candidates vying to succeed Blanco, who is not seeking re-election, on Saturday's ballot and a Nov. 17 runoff may be needed.