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New Orleans' police keep National Guard's street patrols on duty

Police chief in New Orleans seeks to extend the National Guard's street patrols through the end of the summer as a violent crime wave hampers the city's efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

But it was not immediately clear whether Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who had previously extended the guard's stay through next month, would comply with another extension.

Since June, 300 National Guard soldiers have patrolled less-populated neighborhoods, helping a police force whose ranks were thinned after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, but still faces a violent crime problem that threatens New Orleans' recovery. So far this year, the city has had 68 murders, including one Monday morning, which is double the figure for the same period last year, department spokeswoman Officer Jonette Williams said.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley has prepared a phased withdrawal plan for when Blanco orders the guard out, and the department, which has been recruiting and hiring new officers, will be ready to protect the city once that happens, Williams said. However, both Riley and Mayor Ray Nagin want the guard to stay in New Orleans through the summer, representatives said Monday.

"Of course, we'd like them to stay as long as possible, but that's up to the governor," Williams said. Riley had not gotten a response to his request, she said.

Earlier this year, Blanco said the violence threatened New Orleans' economic recovery and asked Riley to provide a plan for stemming it. A Blanco spokeswoman did not know Monday whether the governor had ever gotten one.

Riley was not made available for an interview Monday.

The year got off to a bloody start, prompting a march by angry residents on City Hall and the release of a city plan that included early morning checkpoints and more foot patrols. Federal authorities also have added resources to help investigate and prosecute cases. The department meanwhile has more than 300 fewer officers than before the 2005 hurricane, even with a new recruiting class, Williams said.