The title of this post is actually rather misleading. The Associated Press is reporting that hundreds of National Guard troops will be deployed to New Orleans this next month as an anti-crime measure. So far as I know, martial law has yet to be declared.
Using soldiers to keep the civil peace has always been problematic. Troops equipped and trained to defeat another nation’s military are ill suited to arresting street gangs and investigating crimes. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, the two politicians behind this decision, understand that well enough to emphasize that the NG troops will have “law enforcement experience”. The news article linked to above doesn’t mention which units will be used in NO, so there is no way to tell if they will confine themselves to using MP’s and refrain from having regular troops patrol the streets.
From a law enforcement standpoint, New Orleans has always been a cesspool. Not only has crime always been at a shockingly high level, but the police themselves have a well earned reputation for corruption and vice. The chaos that the hurricane brought certainly didn’t help matters any.
Even so, one would think that NO has the resources to get the job done if they could be used intelligently. My home town of Columbus, Ohio currently fields 1822 police officers to serve and protect a population of 711,470. According to the AP report, New Orleans has 1375 officers and a population of 230,000. It is true that the hurricane caused a breakdown of civil order which made policing a much more difficult job, but that all happened many months ago. Not only would it be reasonable to expect the authorities to get a handle on the situation, TV ads by the Louisiana tourist board have been portraying the city as a great place to spend a vacation.
It is tourism that is the crux of the matter. Six deaths over the weekend in NO prompted the decision to call out the troops. One of the deaths was a knifing due to a drunken brawl over beer, while the five other murders were a group of teenagers who were shot in an SUV. Police say that the shootings were probably gang related, and most likely motivated by a drug deal gone bad. While it is possible that having a few National Guard soldiers patrol the streets might have kept the drunken brawl from escalating, it seems incredible to claim that they would have any impact on gang-banger turf wars.
The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco are pretty desperate. TV ads aside, it doesn’t look like the tourists are actually planning on spending much money in NO any time soon. I doubt that people will be willing to change their minds when they hear that the city government needs military units to keep order.