Justice Department Sending More Equipment and People to Help New Orleans Police

New Orleans is getting additional federal manpower and equipment to help its beleaguered police force fight a surge in violent crime as the city repopulates following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

"The goal is to help take the pressure off local officials and to turn up the heat on these violent felons," U.S. Attorney Jim Letten told a news conference Thursday.

Among the initiatives announced by Letten and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Washington is a plan to add additional federal agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Administration to work with the New Orleans Police Department around the clock.

"These federal agents will identify cases that are subject to federal jurisdiction, provide the necessary investigative assistance to make federal arrests, and follow up with federal prosecutions," the Justice Department said in a news release.

For more on Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, click here.

Also, the department is extending funding for six assistant U.S. attorneys already assigned to the area to stay through the end of the current federal fiscal year. ATF has obtained equipment for a new ballistics identification network to replace the one destroyed by Katrina at a New Orleans Police Department site.

The equipment will allow New Orleans to link with more than 200 sites throughout the country to compare ballistics information

Katrina virtually emptied the city of its residents when it hit in August 2005. The city has been slow to repopulate since then, but crime has returned along with the people.

With a population estimated at 200,000, less than half the pre-Katrina population of 454,000, the city had 161 killings last year. That is a per capita murder rate of 81 murders per 100,000 people. The rate was 56 per 100,000 in 2004, when the city recorded 264 murders.

The police force is down from its pre-Katrina level of 1,700 officers to about 1,400. But that number includes about 100 officers on leave for injuries or illness.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley said during Thursday's news conference that the force is losing officers at a rate of about 17 per month. Better pay in other jurisdictions is luring many away, he said.

"The bottom line is other states are paying more money, giving them a signing bonus and housing opportunities," Riley said.

For more on Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, click here.