Justice Department to Send More Prosecutors to Help Fight Crime in New Orleans

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday he will send additional resources here — including 10 assistant U.S. attorneys — to help fight fraud and a recent rise in violent crime.

He said four additional agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and four additional deputy U.S. marshals also will be sent to the city.

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Crime plummeted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit last Aug. 29. But violent crime has made a comeback in recent months in the city and its suburbs. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent in state police and National Guard troops after five teenagers were shot to death in a sport utility vehicle in mid June.

Gonzales announced the additional help for the city during a news conference at the Port of New Orleans.

He also said the ATF will relaunch a 24-hour hot line people can call to report the illegal use and possession of firearms, and that the Justice Department will fund programs designed to prevent crime, such as helping to re-establish Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Gonzales said more than $61 million in federal money has been appropriated for local law enforcement agencies devastated by the storm.

The commitment of more federal funds and resources comes nearly three weeks after Louisiana's senior U.S. senator, Mary Landrieu, D-La., sent a letter to Gonzales asking for more help. The senator Monday praised the attorney general for his quick response.

"When infrastructures are damaged and resources are compromised — and I've seen vivid evidence of that reality here in New Orleans today — it is appropriate for the federal government to come alongside a community," Gonzales said.

He said that unless New Orleans is safe people would not return and investors would shy from putting their dollars into the city and region.

"We now have an opportunity to put in place a functioning criminal justice system second to none," the attorney general said.

At first, 10 prosecutors would be brought in temporarily to beef up the prosecutor's office in New Orleans and pursue firearms, drug and immigration cases. He added that eventually nine prosecutors would be hired specifically for the New Orleans office to nail down fraud and violent crime cases.

Gonzales said the additional federal prosecutors would be able to pursue harsher charges than state prosecutors, one more tool to deter hard-core criminals.

At the news conference, Donald Powell, President Bush's point man for the Gulf Coast recovery, called Gonzales' move "symbolic of the recovery."