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Constant guard

"Constant guard" Continued...

Issue: "Fixing Islam," June 16, 2007

The NOPD will take all the good recruits it can get. The force recently launched an aggressive recruiting campaign, and the Louisiana House approved $6.6 million for police recruiting and equipment.

In his recent State of the City address, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin noted that the NOPD is on track to graduate six or seven cadet classes this year. That would add some 150 officers to the force. The mayor acknowledged that violent crime, especially murder, is still a serious problem, but called recent spikes in killings "blips."

Those "blips" brought the city's homicide total for the year to 77 by the time Nagin delivered his address on May 30. Seven of those killings happened in the five days leading up to May 30, including an 18-year-old man gunned down midday while riding his bicycle, and a cab driver shot late at night in a suspected robbery. On the same day as Nagin's speech, an Orleans Parish grand jury indicted a man charged with the beating death of his mother at a FEMA trailer on Easter.

FBI special agent Jim Bernazzani says the growing crime rate in New Orleans reflects both new and old problems. For example, Bernazzani points to a new, post-Katrina trend: Long-time drug dealers who fled during the storm are returning but finding their old neighborhoods still uninhabited. The dealers migrate to different areas of the city and corrupt once-safe neighborhoods.

Another post-Katrina trend: A surge of Latin American migrant workers seeking construction jobs has introduced new gangs to the city, like the notoriously violent MS-13. "New Orleans never had this crime element before," Bernazzani told WORLD. The FBI dismantled an Asian drug network that also sprang up in the city shortly after the storm.

But plenty of New Orleans crime woes stem from pre-Katrina problems in the city, which long served as "a revolving door" for many violent criminals, Bernazzani said. Four months before Katrina struck, District Attorney Eddie Jordan said that "a murderer in New Orleans has less than a one in four chance of being convicted of that crime."

Hurricane Katrina compounded the city's already-deficient system by wiping out the police department's crime lab. In the year-and-a-half that followed, thousands of suspects walked free because prosecutors didn't have the physical evidence to convict.

Bernazzani says law-abiding residents are well aware of the city's reputation for releasing violent criminals. Many refuse to help police for fear of retribution, making tips and witnesses hard to come by.

Federal agencies in New Orleans have launched an initiative aimed at prosecuting criminals the city can't or won't convict. Agents target suspects who commit federal crimes, such as illegal firearm possession or dealing crack cocaine, and turn them over to federal courts. U.S. District Attorney Jim Letten, who handles the federal cases, told City Journal: "Our goal is to detain, imprison, prosecute, and incarcerate these violent criminals-to get as many into the federal system as possible."

Bernazzani says that since February federal officials have made 80 arrests for violent crimes, and 75 suspects are still in lockdown. Sixty-five have been indicted, and "we're 20 for 20 on convictions," he says. "Word is getting out that the feds aren't screwing around."

As that word gets out, Captain Douget and his fellow guardsman continue to patrol alongside the NOPD. The guard was scheduled to pull out of New Orleans at the end of this month, but state officials have extended their stay through at least Sept. 30. Douget won't say how long he thinks the guard should stay, but he doesn't worry about running out of duties in the city: "There's plenty of work to do."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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