- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP)

A crime wave is intensifying in this city already beset by a flagging recovery from Hurricane Katrina, and Hispanic immigrants helping to rebuild are common targets, according to police and statistics released last week.

Despite an infusion of money and manpower into the justice system, the number of homicides is climbing, and armed robbers are preying on Hispanic day laborers flush with cash from rebuilding jobs, police say.

The city, which led the nation in homicides per capita last year, is on track to do the same this year, according to data for April through June. The report shows a 14 percent increase in homicides and a 44 percent leap in armed robberies for the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2006.

“It’s obviously not good,” said police Superintendent Warren Riley.

Crime has become so troubling that Louisiana National Guard troops continue to patrol streets and the U.S. Justice Department has taken on a bigger role in fighting street crime.

The increase in armed robberies correlates to a spate of muggings of Hispanic workers, many of them undocumented, in the city’s devastated eastern section, Superintendent Riley said. The workers are easy prey because they often don’t have bank accounts and carry large amounts of cash, he said.

Katrina’s damage to jails, court buildings, police facilities and a shortage of police officers are blamed for the rise in crime. In January, a march on City Hall by as many as 5,000 people demanded action to stem a wave in killings. Police responded by putting more officers on the street and setting up checkpoints at high-crime hours.

Peter Scharf, a criminologist with the University of New Orleans, said Katrina-based arguments are harder to make now that the city has had time to repair damage and received so much support.

“The hurricane theories, morphing of drug groups, or that the [police department] is in a trailer, really don’t make sense,” Mr. Scharf said. “You look at the leadership in this city to the leadership in cities that have been reasonably successful, and it’s night and day.”