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Nagin steps up police patrols

New Orleans sees 9 killings in 8 days

Pallbearers carried the casket of Helen Hill after funeral services at St. Paul's Lutheran Church yesterday in Columbia, S.C. Hill was shot to death by an intruder in New Orleans on Jan. 4. Her death is one of at least nine homicides there this year. (MARY ANN CHASTAIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

NEW ORLEANS -- Facing nine homicides in just eight days in his battered city, Mayor Ray Nagin declared a crackdown on violent crime, promising more police on the streets, more surveillance cameras, and a better effort to speed cases through the courts, but no curfew.

"We are drawing a line in the sand, saying enough is enough," Nagin said Tuesday. "We're going to put all our resources to focus on murder and violent crime."

The mayor addressed the city's continuing crime problem just a few steps from where blood stains mark the spot of the Jan. 1 killing of 28-year-old Corey Hayes, one of nine homicides in New Orleans in the first eight days of this year. The city counted 161 homicides in 2006.

Nagin said he would pull more police officers off desk jobs and pair them with Orleans Parish Sheriff's deputies on the city's streets.

A proposed curfew -- opposed by struggling businesses dependent on tourism -- was rejected, but police will set up more checkpoints during the early-morning hours, when about one-third of the city's violent crime occurs, police Superintendent Warren Riley said. Nagin said authorities also will increase the number of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas.

Nagin acknowledged that the breakdown in the city's criminal justice system extends beyond the police force. Jails have overflowed, and the courts -- which lost records and evidence in the 2005 hurricane -- are backed up with old cases as well as the new.

Tuesday morning, one fed-up judge had tracked down a top juvenile justice public defender and held him in contempt because no one from the public defender's staff showed up to represent defendants in his court. The defender, who said his staff was stretched too thin, spent a few hours in jail before an appeals court stayed the order.

Police officers have been critical of the district attorney's office and judges, who they say have turned loose too many criminals or given them light sentences.

Riley said Tuesday that his department will work with the district attorney to ensure that all information needed to prosecute a murder case will be turned over within 28 days.

Nagin said the city would also recruit volunteers to try to better monitor the homicide cases moving through the courts.

"We're sending a signal that the system that used to allow you to commit a murder and there were no consequences is over. It has been easier to commit a murder than another crime in New Orleans," Nagin said.

Governor Kathleen Blanco held a closed-door meeting yesterday to discuss the New Orleans situation with State Police and National Guard officials.

"I think their plan is a solid plan," Blanco said of the city's crackdown. But she said she needs to see specifics on how the Police Department plans to increase its ranks.

The police force is down from its pre-Katrina level of 1,700 officers to about 1,400. The city's population is down from its pre-Katrina total of 455,000 to about 200,000 according to the US Census Bureau.

Since June 2006, the state has spent about $15 million to keep 300 National Guard troops and 60 State Police in New Orleans, plus $15 million to house Orleans Parish prisoners in state facilities. Guard soldiers were brought in to help patrol some neighborhoods after five teenagers were killed in one night in June.

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