NEW ORLEANS – The bloodiest city in the country in 2006, reeling from crime in its struggle to recover from Hurricane Katrina, got even worse in 2007.
New Orleans registered 209 homicides last year, a nearly 30 percent increase from the 161 recorded in 2006.
The FBI's rankings for 2007 will not be out until much later in the year, but New Orleans' population is thought to be 295,450, which would mean a rate of about 71 homicides per 100,000 people.
Even the most generous population estimate in 2006 put the number of people in the city that year at 255,000. That meant a real homicide rate of 63.5 per 100,000 residents. To compare that number with some other notoriously bloody cities, the rate for Gary, Ind., was 48.3 and Detroit's was 47.1.
The killings are drug-related or retaliatory for the most part, police have said. The upswing comes despite continued patrols by the National Guard and state police and the addition of two new classes of police recruits in the past year.
But beefed-up policing efforts can only do so much, said Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of Greater New Orleans.
"The police and the criminal justice system is expected to clean up the mess, but they didn't create the mess," Goyeneche said. "They aren't responsible for the social problems of the city, the failure of the school system, the degeneration of the family unit. And until the city does something to rectify those problems, crime and murder will continue to be a problem."
There are hopeful signs, however, Goyeneche said, pointing to improved schools in the city since the 2005 storm, grass-roots efforts to tackle crime, and a growing effort to upgrade city life.
"This city is beginning to do some things that I've been waiting 25 years to see," Goyeneche said. "I think there is a renewed sense of purpose; people are focused and demanding more than what was in play before Katrina hit."
New York's and Chicago's 2007 homicide totals were the lowest in more than 40 years, and in Philadelphia, slayings dipped slightly after reaching a nine-year high in 2006. But in several other big cities, homicides increased, including in Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and Baltimore.