- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

The decision to send state troopers and National Guardsmen into New Orleans this summer was discussed as early as April as a way to control looting, says the city’s police chief and was not a response to the recent spate of homicides in the hurricane-ravaged city.

New Orleans Police Chief Warren J. Riley said the request to place 60 state troopers and 300 National Guardsmen in the city this Saturday through Sept. 15 was discussed as early as April, and a letter dated June 15 with the request was sent to State Police Col. Henry L. Whitehorn.

However, the City Council said the manpower request is in response to a widely publicized spate of six homicides that occurred the weekend of June 17 and 18. Members released a statement calling the request a “unified effort involving government, community, law-enforcement and neighborhood groups.”

“We will not allow these criminals to take over our streets. We must get the murder rate under control,” said Council Chairman Oliver M. Thomas Jr.

Anthony Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Police Commission, a Louisiana statewide police watchdog group, said much of the “hullabaloo” about homicide rates is politically motivated by upcoming elections.

“It took foresight and courage to call in the state police and National Guard, and I am sure it wasn’t a popular decision at the staff meetings because it shows a failure, but [Chief Riley] at least had the courage to acknowledge he needed help,” said Mr. Radosti, who is a retired New Orleans Police officer.

Chief Riley said the homicides are foremost on his mind, but reports of a failed police department and rampant crime are far from the truth. The additional manpower is needed to fend off the increasing property crimes in the mostly unpopulated areas of the city.

“Our murder rate is down 58 to 59 percent, and even with only 48 percent of our population back, our homicide rate is still down 11 percent on a per-capita basis,” Chief Riley said.

The city has experienced 54 homicides this year — 36 in the past two months. But that is a long way from the 126 homicides the city posted by early June last year.

Many of the thefts the city is experiencing, the chief said, do not involve its residents.

“We have building contractors coming in from other states stealing materials — pipes, plumbing supplies, roofing materials off of roofs, appliances — along with other property crimes, and we need the [State Police and National Guard] help to cover those areas and stop them from happening,” he said.

More than 400 looters have been arrested so far this year. Summer is expected to bring more residents and more crime, but not more police officers.

The police department has a working regiment of 1,376 officers.

New Orleans East, which constitutes the 9th Ward, is 133 square miles. It is a large area to patrol and even larger without residents to report crimes to police, Mr. Radosti said. He added that the police force has a limited talent pool because the cash-strapped city government can’t recruit new officers effectively.

About 100 National Guardsmen touched down in New Orleans last Monday, but up to 200 more will be sent in July. New Orleans’ current population of 210,000 is less than half the 465,000 residents before Hurricane Katrina hit in August.

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