NEW ORLEANS -- Police Chief Warren Riley, reacting to the deaths of six people over the holiday weekend, said yesterday that he would ask Governor Kathleen Blanco to keep National Guard troops in the city past the end of the year, when their mission to help patrol hurricane-damaged neighborhoods was supposed to end.
Riley said he planned to ask 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," said a police spokesman, Sergeant Jeffrey Johnson.
Soldiers began patrolling New Orleans neighborhoods last June, after five teenagers were killed in a shooting.
The National Guard focused on areas that were most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, so that police could focus on areas afflicted by higher rates of crime.
"We really believed we'd turned a corner. We felt good we were doing what it takes," Riley said. But violence flared up over the Thanksgiving weekend, claiming six lives and raising the city's homicides for the year to 147.
An apparent stabbing death early Sunday near Bourbon Street was under investigation. Three people were fatally shot in other areas on Saturday, and a double homicide was recorded Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Blanco said the governor would reassess the Guard's presence here at the end of the year.
Since June, 300 National Guard troops have patrolled New Orleans and have assisted in about 1,400 arrests, said a spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Schneider. Soldiers cannot make arrests, but they can detain people until a police officer arrives, he said.
While city police work to curb violent crime, the Guard has dealt mostly with the looting of vacant homes and burglaries, Schneider said.
Also yesterday, the police department began its first officer training class since Katrina, taking on 41 recruits.
But rebuilding the department will take time, Johnson said. "That's why we would need the Guard to stay on a bit longer," he said.
The police force numbers 1,425 officers, down from about 1,670 before Katrina, according to Mayor C. Ray Nagin's office. The mayor has called for increasing the police budget to expand the force to 1,600.
The Guard's six-month stay this year is expected to cost $13 million, he said. That figure includes salary, food for the troops, equipment maintenance, fuel costs, and lodging at a hotel.