Tuesday, May 09, 2006

NOLA, it’s a fun place to get killed
Murder Making a Comeback in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jane Anderson misses the old days - the days right after Hurricane Katrina when National Guardsmen with rifles roamed the street outside the New Orleans shop where she works. The days when there weren't many people around and crime was down sharply.

"I know it's still pretty safe," Anderson says. "But it doesn't feel that way. We're hearing about more things happening, more murders, more bad guys returning."

Murder is making a comeback in New Orleans.

The city had 30 murders this year through April. That is less than half of the 81 recorded during the first four months of 2005. But New Orleans' population these days is less than half of what it was before Katrina.

Also, while there were only 17 murders in January through March of this year, there were an alarming 13 slayings in April. That is the most for any month since the Aug. 29 storm, though still well below the monthly average of 22 in 2003 and 2004…

And May has gotten off to a violent start with three slayings, including a shooting that followed an argument in a Bourbon Street bar early Tuesday…

"We are not seeing a return to the old days," [New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren] Riley said. "This city is still the safest it has ever been."

Law enforcement officers acknowledge rising numbers of murders and shootings, and attribute them largely to turf wars among criminals returning to the city.

"Since April began we've had the return of individuals who have a legacy of violent crimes," said Jim Bernazzani, the FBI agent in charge of New Orleans. "Prior to storm they were residing in areas that are now uninhabitable. So they are returning to the 20 percent of the city that did not flood and they are running into violent criminals whose turf it is."…

In neighboring Jefferson Parish, the murder rate is way up. The population has fallen from about 450,000 before Katrina to around 370,000, according to the parish president's office. But there were 22 murders though April, compared with 28 during all of last year…

New Orleans had a fearsome pre-Katrina reputation for violence in the streets around its housing projects and in other poor sections of town. Drugs were said to be at the center of most of the killings.

In 2004, New Orleans had 264 murders, or 56 per 100,000 people, according to the FBI. That compares with seven per 100,000 in New York and a national average of 5.5 per 100,000.

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