06/27/2006

NOPD triples weekend arrest tally

By Trymaine Lee, Staff writer
Times-Picayune
Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company 

With the National Guard patrolling more deserted parts of the city, New Orleans police arrested 34 suspected felons during the weekend, nearly triple the usual tally, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Warren Riley said Monday.

But Mayor Ray Nagin acknowledged an unsuspected hitch in implementing another part of the crackdown on crime, the juvenile curfew: difficulty tracking down the parents of some young curfew violators in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"The National Guard being here has allowed us to pull our officers in and flood areas of concern," Riley said of the successful weekend roundup of criminal suspects. Those "hot spots" include Central City and parts of Hollygrove and Algiers. About 300 National Guard joined patrols with NOPD officers last week in eastern New Orleans, parts of Lakeview, Gentilly and the decimated Lower 9th Ward, mainly to scout out the looting that has plagued those areas since the hurricane. In addition, 60 State Troopers have been deployed to New Orleans to assist local police.

The weekend's surge in arrests -- 34 for felonies, 29 on narcotics charges, 35 for municipal offenses and four for misdemeanors -- emboldened Riley to predict that crime rates would quickly start to fall. "This week you'll see a difference," he said.

Youth back, but not parents

Police detained 14 juveniles for breaking the 11 p.m. curfew imposed on Friday and Saturday nights. All but two of the juveniles were remanded to their parents. Two of the youths remained in police custody Monday because police were unable to locate their parents or legal guardians, Riley said.

Nagin said police picking up children who might have returned to the city without their parents is troubling, and he hopes it's not a trend law enforcement will have to continue dealing with.

"We're picking up kids whose parents are not here," Nagin said. "These kids are just out there. We have to give them a bath and feed them." Nagin said if the problem continues, the city and police department will have to develop both long- and short-term plans to house the juvenile curfew breakers.

"We just can't let them go until we find a parent," Riley said.

The curfew for anyone under the age of 17 begins Sunday to Thursday at 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m. The curfew ends daily at 6 a.m. Those same guidelines were in place during the bloody year of 1994, when then-Mayor Marc Morial instituted a curfew in response to a skyrocketing murder rate.

Asked to evaluate Riley's performance as police superintendent, Nagin said it's too early to pass judgment.

Rating the chief

"The Police Foundation, the FBI, even Gen. Honoré, all the people he's been working with have been pleased," Nagin said. "I say you give a chief a year before you give him a hard assessment. But so far, so good."

While expressing optimism that the NOPD, with an assist from State Troopers and the National Guard, will succeed in controlling crime, Nagin said that if the city's violent crime rates continue to climb, more extreme measures might be needed.

"We're going to continue to pound the public safety issue," he said. "I'm not necessarily against going back to a city-wide curfew, shutting the city down for a few hours" a day.

Nagin said early talk of a more stringent curfew for all residents, regardless of age, has met resistance from French Quarter merchants and the city's university community, who fear the move would send a message to the parents of college-age students that the city is not safe. Many local colleges and universities have struggled to attract freshman for the fall semester, Nagin said.

Bloody episode

Though in the works for months, the curfew and last week's deployment of the National Guard and Louisiana State Police came on the heels of the city's bloodiest episode of violence in a decade: the slaughter of five teenagers in Central City. Police said a gunman or group of gunmen fired upon an SUV the teens were driving about 4 a.m. near Josephine and Danneel streets.

Nagin said he'll be making an announcement this week that he hopes will bolster efforts to engage the city's youth during the summer months. Nagin said the city plans to open five public pools and resurrect summer recreation programs for up to 1,000 kids. The city also will be partnering with the YMCA, the YWCA, and several churches and schools to offer other summer programs.

In addition, the city's summer employment program will provide jobs for 500 kids, half the number provided with work last summer.

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