Gov. Kathleen Blanco called in the Louisiana National Guard earlier this summer to help the New Orleans Police Department restore order in neighborhoods and city streets still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
It was a spike in violent crime this summer that caused the governor to order 300 guardsmen and 60 State Police officers to return to the besieged city June 20; the guard patrols were intended to allow NOPD to move additional officers into districts where such crimes have escalated. Since that time, the National Guard has been involved in more than 340 arrests, mostly for looting and burglary, but also for outstanding warrants, drug possession and domestic abuse, says Deputy Chief of Staff and Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Schneider. "What's interesting," he says, "is that none of [the arrests] have been for violent crimes." They encounter theft of some kind more often than anything else.
Reporter Ariane Wiltse and photographer Tracie Morris Schaefer spent three days on patrol with the National Guard in the Third, Fifth and Seventh districts in July and found that the soldiers' presence, especially in neighborhoods where residents have been slow to move back and rebuild their homes, provides a sense of security as much as anything.