Police chief intends to ask Guard to stay in New Orleans

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Following a holiday weekend marred by six violent deaths that included a Mississippi man, police chief Warren Riley said Monday he will ask the governor to extend the National Guard’s mission here well into the new year. It is supposed to expire Dec. 31.

Riley, speaking as 41 recruits began the city’s first police training class since Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, said he planned to make a written request within the next day or two that the guard stay through June.

“But we’d be satisfied with whatever they could do, to supplement our ranks, to let our ranks do the policing work and the National Guard can take patrol,” a police spokesman, Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson, added.

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Soldiers began patrolling New Orleans neighborhoods last June after five teenagers were killed in an early morning shooting. The guard focused on the areas most devastated and least inhabited since Hurricane Katrina. This was to allow the police, which lost officers following the 2005 storm, to focus their attention on higher-crime areas.

“We really believed we’d turned a corner. We felt good we were doing what it takes,” Riley said. Then, this past weekend, “it flared up again.”

An apparent stabbing death early Sunday morning on or near Bourbon Street was under investigation. The victim was identified as Frank Boudreaux of Carriere, Miss.

There were three separate fatal shootings in other areas of the city on Saturday and a double homicide Thursday night.

As of Monday, the number of killings so far this year was 147, Johnson said.

Currently, there are 1,425 police officers, down from about 1,670 before Katrina, according to the mayor’s office. Mayor Ray Nagin has called for increasing the police budget to help bring the number of officers to a comparable level of 1,600.

The department began its first police training class since Katrina on Monday with 41 recruits. But building the department back to where it was before Katrina will take time, Johnson said. “That’s why we would need the guard to stay on a bit longer,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the governor would reassess the need to extend the guard’s presence here at year’s end.

Ceeon Quiett, a spokeswoman for Nagin, said the National Guard’s presence initially was requested “because this is a different type of law enforcement that Chief Riley has had to undertake. He has had to manage law enforcement in populated and extremely desolate areas.”

The city also has been under a state of emergency, a designation set to expire next month — some 16 months after Katrina, she said.

Since June, 300 National Guard troops have patrolled New Orleans. And during that time, they’ve assisted in about 1,400 arrests, spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Schneider said. The soldiers themselves cannot make arrests, but they can detain people until a police officer arrives, he said.

Last month, a guardsman shot a man during a traffic stop, Schneider said. The man did not die, and the guard member is back on patrol, while the matter remains under investigation, he said.

While the NOPD has dealt with more violent crime, the guard has dealt mostly with looting of vacant or forsaken homes and burglary, Schneider said.

The guard’s six-month stay this year is expected to cost $13 million, he said. That figure includes salary, food money, equipment maintenance, fuel costs and lodging at a hotel.