NEW ORLEANS – Police plan to set up checkpoints beginning Wednesday to help curb a crime wave that has claimed nine lives since the start of 2007, Mayor Ray Nagin said, stopping short of imposing a curfew on this tourism-dependent city.
The checkpoints will operate between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., when about a third of the city's violent crime occurs, and will target drug and alcohol violations as well as motorist insurance. The first one was to be held in a crime-ridden area of the city.
Nagin said the police force would also increase foot patrols, sheriff deputies would supplement the force, and authorities would increase the number of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. Speeding homicide cases through the court system is also part of his plan.
"This city will focus on murders," Nagin said, flanked by Police Superintendent Warren Riley, District Attorney Eddie Jordan and others speaking at the bloodstained site of the city's first murder of 2007. "We're drawing a line in the sand, and we're saying, 'We've had it."'
A curfew had been opposed by the city's tourism leaders, who said it would further hurt businesses struggling since Hurricane Katrina. While Nagin did not declare a curfew, he said the message to citizens was to stay off the streets in high-crime areas and in early morning hours.
Nagin acknowledged the criminal justice breakdown extended beyond the police force and said a corps of volunteers will be recruited to monitor 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.
Also Tuesday, Sen. Mary Landrieu called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to share more information on trailer residents with police, especially in New Orleans.
Law enforcement officials say the large trailer sites — where about 3,000 people still live in New Orleans — have turned into hot spots for drug dealers, prostitutes and even murderers. FEMA has been very tightlipped about who is living at the sites, which has hindered police work, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens said.
"We're largely still in the dark," Stephens said. "They won't share information."
Rachel Rodi, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the "records of applicants for FEMA assistance" cannot be shared, a policy all federal agencies adhere to. However, FEMA turns over information to investigators if they have "a specific, legally sufficient need," she said.