President Obama’s speech about the troop withdrawal plan in Iraq has been getting lots of attention, but the withdrawal in one tough spot hasn’t gotten much coverage:
National Guard troops will be assisting local police and patrolling the city’s blighted neighborhoods for the last time this weekend. [they ended their tour on March 1st at 3:00 a.m.]
Their pullout marks the end of a 3 1/2-year stint in the city that began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And it comes at a time in which the New Orleans Police Department has boosted its ranks to 1,500 officers, a level that Police Superintendent Warren Riley has said is enough to protect the city.
The National Guardsmen were welcomed as liberators when they arrived in a big convoy more than four days after Katrina struck the city. The force was eventually 15,000 strong.
Their numbers dwindled as civil authority returned in the months after the storm. But then, after a surge of bloodshed in June 2006, 360 troops were dispatched to help the depleted police department.
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Fewer than 100 troops were working this month in the city’s most sparsely populated sections.
With Louisiana facing a $341 million budget deficit, state lawmakers were reluctant to keep the Guard in New Orleans any longer. Some lawmakers, especially those outside the metropolitan area, bristled at the city’s repeated requests for continued aid.
Their patrols — in camouflage uniforms and Humvees — became a routine and often welcome sight.
“We don’t have enough cops. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that there’s not enough of them. These guys are Johnny-on-the-spot when you need them,” said 57-year-old Tom Hightower, who is still trying to get the mold out of his house. He added: “This is still a spooky place after dark.”
The Guardsmen answered lots of calls involving domestic violence, which reportedly has increased since the hurricane, and handled car wrecks, house and business alarms and other problems.
“One of the biggest things we did was keep those places safe so people could rebuild,” said Sgt. Wayne Lewis, a New Orleans native who has been patrolling the streets since January 2007. “People would put the things to rebuild in their houses and thieves would come along and take them right out again. We stopped a lot of that.”
The troops had full arrest powers but were required to call New Orleans police on serious matters. In their time on the streets, Guard troops were involved in only one shooting, and the district attorney ruled it justified.
“I don’t think the city is ready for us to leave,” said Lt. Ronald Brown, who has been part of Task Force Gator since April 2007. “I’d like to see us stay. I think we make a difference, but I guess it’s a money thing.”
Just another example of cutting back because of the sliding economy. I feel sorry for New Orleans residents for three reasons: first that they needed a National Guard presence at all, and second, that the National Guard is leaving, because my third reason for feeling sorry for New Orleans is the murder rate in the Big Easy:
One recent analysis, done by Tulane University demographer Mark VanLandingham and University of New Orleans criminologist Peter Scharf, puts the city’s 2008 murder rate at 64.7 per 100,000 residents. That’s down from an alarming spike in violence in 2006 and 2007, when the city posted rates of 77.1 and 87.8, respectively, per 100,000 residents, the researchers reported.
Those rates were calculated based on U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. City Hall has challenged those census figures, saying they underestimate the city’s population and thus overestimate its per-capita violence. The Census Bureau is still reviewing the city’s challenge.
While the numbers are hotly contested, they don’t matter a great deal in the final analysis. Even using the most optimistic population estimate, New Orleans would rank among the country’s most murderous cities per-capita.
The “Big Easy” indeed. More like the Humongously Horrid.
Hat tip: Acre of Independence