NEW ORLEANS — A new round of shootings, which claimed a toddler's life and increased the number of slayings in New Orleans to 191 this year, has prompted a lawmaker to call for the National Guard to patrol city streets.
State Rep. Austin Badon, a Democrat who is running for city council, has asked Gov. Bobby Jindal to bring the National Guard back to help patrol city streets as it did after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Jindal has said Badon should contact Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office to discuss approaches to crime.
Many involved in law enforcement say that the soldiers may comfort residents, but they won't necessarily slow the pace of killings.
The guard, says Rafael Goyeneche of the watchdog agency the Metropolitan Crime Commission of Greater New Orleans, is not trained in urban police strategies.
"I don't think that is a solution," Goyeneche said of Badon's request. "They were used as a visual deterrent factor when they were here before, mostly in unpopulated areas. But combating crimes of violence is beyond the scope of the Guard."
New Orleans, which had 175 slayings in 2010, has seen more than its murder rate rise this year. Many of the killings have been accompanied by injuries to others, raising the number of those shot well above the number of those killed.
And though the murder rate has grown each year since Katrina, it is nowhere near New Orleans' worst year — 1994 — when there were 421 people killed.
On Sunday, the toddler — who would have turned 2 on Thursday — was shot in the head as she played in a housing project courtyard. She was struck by stray gunfire as gunmen chased a 19-year-old into the area where the children were playing. A 9-year-old boy was hit in the back during another shootout in a different section of town, New Orleans police said.
Landrieu and others have said the shootings mostly involve young black men who know each other, and most of the shootings are linked to vendettas as shooters seek revenge for past killings or perceived slights.
Landrieu has set up a program seeking mentoring for at-risk youth, jobs for young people, and educational programs to move teenagers away from violence.
After Katrina, as the crime rate began to climb with the city's repopulation, the National Guard was used to patrol the less populated parts of the city. That freed police to deal with crime in resettled parts of town.
"There's more to it than just adding more police force," said Ralph Mitchell, a retired major with Louisiana State Police, who was in charge of troopers stationed in New Orleans after Katrina. "If the city needs to free up officers for more patrols, then the Guard might help. But people should not expect them to come in and sweep the streets clean of murder. If that's what they expect they will be disappointed."
The National Guard still works with the city, providing help with training, intelligence, and strategy, Landrieu said. Putting the Humvees and soldiers back on the streets is not necessary, he added.
"This kind of killing is between young men who know each other and seek each other out," Landrieu said. "The National Guard cannot help with that."
Landrieu also announced the arrest of a suspect in the shooting of the toddler and said a person of interest in the death was gunned down on Monday. Police are still looking for a third suspect in the child's shooting.
Still, Goyeneche said, efforts to address violent crime are beginning to pay off. Police and the district attorney's office are working together for the first time in years, he said, noting that the district attorney is accepting over 85 percent of the cases made by police for prosecution, compared to 45 to 50 percent in the previous administrations.
"Don't take the fact that the Guard is not being called in at this point as a sign leadership is not addressing the problem," Goyeneche said. "The city is now doing things that should have been done 25 years ago. That's where this problem has to be addressed now."