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| Monday, November 28, 2005

New York Times on New Orleans

Originally here.
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New Orleans Crime Swept Away, With Most of the People



By ADAM NOSSITER
Published: November 10, 2005
        NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 9 - On a single day last June in Pigeon Town and Hollygrove, impoverished neighborhoods of worn frame houses at the city's western edge, four men were killed, adding to the eight already slain there this year.  Young men brazenly sold drugs from street corners in broad daylight.  The gunfire was constant.  Residents were fearful.

        But the bullets and the drugs and the fear are gone now, swept away by Hurricane Katrina, along with the dealers and gangs and most of the people.

        There has not been a single killing in this violence-prone neighborhood, or anywhere else in New Orleans, since the chaos that immediately followed Hurricane Katrina subsided.  New Orleans, the nation's most dangerous city, has suddenly become perhaps its safest, and what had easily been the country's murder capital now has a murder rate of exactly zero.  Although several people were believed to have been killed in the disorder that followed the floods for several days, the last killing officially recorded by the police was on Aug. 27, two days before the hurricane hit.  A bar owner was found shot to death that day in his establishment on Magazine Street.

        And when the city was finally evacuated, the criminals left, too.

        Since then some 60,000 to 80,000 residents have returned, a fraction of the city's previous population of 450,000.  What is remarkable to criminologists, though, is how few criminals seem to be among them.

        Peter Scharf, executive director of the Center for Society, Law and Justice at the University of New Orleans, estimated that there were as many as 20,000 participants in the drug culture in the city before the storm.  Those drug users and dealers were the engines of the city's crime, Mr. Scharf said, but are now largely absent.  No one is certain where they wound up.

        Federal agents and police officials elsewhere say there have not been any noticeable spikes in crime in the cities that took in large numbers of hurricane refugees, including nearby Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities in the Southeast.

        What is known is that many of the most impoverished, crime-ridden sections of New Orleans remain largely empty, in part because the expense of returning and repairing homes is beyond the means of previous residents.  There is no precise precedent for this transformation in the crime rate, law enforcement officials and academic experts say.  While the few residents who have returned are holding their breath to see how long it lasts, the sudden change has become a subject of intense interest for those who study crime.

        "This is one of the most interesting experiments in crime we've ever seen," Mr. Scharf said.  "Without effective courts, corrections or rehabilitation, we have reduced the crime rate by 100 percent."

        Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Scharf continued, "was one of the greatest crime-control tools ever deployed against a high-crime city."

        Before the storm, New Orleans was reeling, with a daily round of killings and gunfire as bad as any in the city's history; Mr. Scharf projected that without the hurricane there would have been 316 killings there in 2005.

        After a brief hiatus in the mid-1990's, the city's murder rate had shot back up: in 2004 it was 59 murders per 100,000 population, compared with 7 per 100,000 in New York, giving New Orleans the highest murder rate in the nation, according to the F.B.I.

        Now, police officers are answering some calls for domestic disputes and responding to a few looting complaints.  But the whine of sirens, the sound of police cars rushing to a killing scene, is gone.  And the Police Department, badly shaken by desertions and looting after the hurricane, has much more time for training, a department spokesman, Marlon Defillo, said.

        "The calls for service are not violent in nature," he said.  "Over all, the officers are not seeing violence."

        In Pigeon Town, the sound of hammers and demolition equipment - signs of the reconstruction of homes - mix with pounding radios.  Some residents have returned, but one segment is conspicuous by its absence.

        "The dope men, like, they're out of town," said Nona Ivey, a resident of General Ogden Street, sipping a beer on her front porch.  "We're hoping they don't come back."

        Still, some veteran New Orleans observers caution against jubilation over this precipitous drop in crime.  It might not last, for one thing.  And even if it does, the manner in which it was achieved is troubling, they say.

        "Both the perpetrators and the victims have been washed out," said Lawrence N. Powell, a historian at Tulane University here.  "We've solved our crime problem in a brutally Darwinian way."

        That, Mr. Powell said, was too high a price to pay.

        "The fact that it would take a world-historic tragedy to solve your crime problem does not speak well for the civic culture," he said.
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        And always remember Steve's words of political wisdom:
THE HOUSE OF SAUD MUST BE DESTROYED!

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