- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nine months after they rode to the rescue in the desperate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, National Guardsmen carrying M-16s returned to the city yesterday to reinforce a depleted police department and battle a surge in violence.

The 100 or so soldiers will patrol the streets in ravaged neighborhoods left deserted by Katrina, freeing up police officers to concentrate on more heavily populated sections.

“We’re just trying to give a hand to the city of New Orleans,” said Lt. Melvin Edwards, 32, a member of 239th Military Police Company.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, sent in the National Guard at the mayor’s request after a bloody weekend in which six persons were killed.

The troops, dressed in full camouflage fatigues, carried M-16s, side arms and ammunition as they arrived in a convoy of 75 vehicles. They parked their Humvees and tanker trucks in formation in front of the Convention Center, drawing waves and thumbs-up from onlookers.

Up to 200 more guardsmen will be sent in later, bringing the total in the city to 300. In addition, 60 state police officers were sent to help keep the peace.

As the soldiers arrived, New Orleans police were investigating another slaying, that of a 22-year-old man. The killing brought this year’s homicide toll to 54.

The bloodshed has raised fears that violence is back on the rise in a city that was plagued by crime before Katrina drove out half its population of 465,000.

Community leaders are afraid the violence will discourage people from returning.

King Milling, a New Orleans banker, said he was “just delighted” by the troops’ arrival. “The powers that be recognize that this is an issue that we must deal with,” he said.

Many of the soldiers who arrived were sent to New Orleans during Katrina, but they had not seen the city since those desperate days.

Sgt. Alfred Glasper of Baton Rouge looked for signs of appreciation as he steered a tan Humvee down Interstate 10 into the heart of the city.

“There you go,” he said, pointing to a man stopped on the side of the highway and waving. “People down here didn’t want us to leave. They felt very safe.”

Mayor C. Ray Nagin asked for help from the National Guard and state police on Monday after five teenagers in a sport utility vehicle were fatally shot Saturday in the city’s deadliest attack in at least 11 years. Police said it apparently was motivated by drugs or revenge.

The police force is down to about 1,375 officers, compared with about 1,750 before Katrina.

Cherie Kerr, who runs a Santa Ana., Calif., public-relations firm that specializes in crises, said the move gives the impression that crime is out of hand.

“When you call in the National Guard, you’re pretty much saying you’re out of control,” Miss Kerr said.

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