Beset by Violent Crime, New Orleans Reacts

New Orleans will launch plans to crack down on crime in the city following a slew of murders in the past two weeks. This comes in advance of planned community demonstrations in reaction to the murders. Michele Norris talks with reporter Laura Maggi of The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

New Orleans residents planned two different marches tomorrow to protest a crime a wave that's claimed nine lives so far in 2007. Mayor Ray Nagin yesterday announced some stepped-up crime fighting measures, but residents, still staggering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, were skeptical and angry.

The killings have grabbed national headlines, further complicating the city's effort to bring tourist and economic development back to the storm-battered city. The crime spree comes seven months after the Louisiana National Guard joined forces with police to patrol the city streets.

Laura Maggi has been covering the crime wave for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. She joins us now from the newsroom. Laura, what's going on behind this crime spree? Is there any explanation behind the spike in homicides?

Ms. LAURA MAGGI (Reporter, The New Orleans Times-Picayune): No, not really. We actually had a lot of homicides last year in 2006. I think we're calculating 162. Obviously, since the beginning of the year, there's been more than the trend was last year, as well, but it's unclear exactly what is going on, and most of the homicides are the typical ones that you see in New Orleans where it's a young man killed on the street, police say possibly drug-related, but the ones that seem to have outraged citizens the most, a member of the Hot 8 Brass Band was killed at the end of last year.

And then, also, a woman was shot in her house, in the marina neighborhood, which is one very close to the French Quarter.

NORRIS: Laura, help us put these numbers into context. When you talk about nine homicides so far in 2007, is that significant because the population of New Orleans is still relatively small?

Ms. MAGGI: It is, and that's a lot for - what are we, on the tenth day of the year? So that's almost one a day. That's big for a city even of New Orleans' former size, which would have been about 460,000 people.

Last year, the 162 murders we had - that was a really high amount for a city of, let's say, 230,000 people. We don't exactly know how many people are back, so it's hard to do this, sort of, per capita analysis that is typical when you talk about murders, but that's high. That's - we would be higher per capita than most major cities.

NORRIS: Well, Mayor Nagin's stepped-up crime-fighting plan calls for putting more offices on the street. Where will those officers come from? Are they just going to shift positions, or are they actually trying to bring police officers back to New Orleans - police officers who maybe moved on with their families?

Ms. MAGGI: Well, there is a recruitment campaign that's been going on for the past month or so, and they are trying to get more officers to, sort of, build back up to about 1,600. They also are talking about moving people from desk jobs to patrol jobs, at least for part of the week.

NORRIS: Well, in terms of recruitment, how do you get officers to return to New Orleans? The governor talked about an incentive package with $300 or $400 salary supplements, but that plan went nowhere.

Ms. MAGGI: Well, I think that it is going to be tough, and the reason that it's going to be tough is because it's - this is a hard place to live. Getting a place down here can be very difficult. They are trying to make pitches in terms of helping officers with getting homes. And the salary has been improved on the local level. They've given the police a raise, but probably, it will be something that's difficult.

I think just the advertising for it is probably something that they're going to need to put focus on, in terms of trying to get people, maybe from across the country, who, maybe want to come here out of some kind of sense civic duty.

NORRIS: Laura, before we say goodbye, could you briefly tell us about those marches planned for tomorrow?

Ms. MAGGI: There's a couple of marches, and one is supposed to start at the house of Helen Hill, who was one of the people who has been killed since the beginning of the year. And another march is starting, and I'm not exactly sure from which location they're starting, but they're both supposed to, sort of, convene on the city hall. People who are involved with them say they're expecting a pretty big turnout, and that they're hoping a lot of people will go to, sort of, express their need for city leaders to really do something to address the problem.

NORRIS: Laura, thanks so much.

Ms. MAGGI: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Laura Maggi. She's been covering the crime wave in New Orleans for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

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