With the upcoming two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — and the sweeping flood waters she brought with her — New Orleans continues to roil in waves of violent crime on a daily basis.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on crime in post-Katrina New Orleans. Two panels addressed the committee, all of whom were absent with the exception of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.
The first panel included Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
"In 2006, over 160 murders occurred around the city of New Orleans, bringing the city the ominous distinction of being the city with the most murders per capita in the United States," Landrieu said, adding, "It's been heartbreaking every moment and heartbreaking for the families, and it has spread fear in our community."
Landrieu told the story of Helen Hill, who was one victim in what became New Orleans' deadly first week of 2007.
"On the morning of January 4, a home intruder shot and killed Helen Hill, a local filmmaker, and severely wounded her husband Paul," Landrieu said. "Paul is a physician who had come to the city to establish a medical clinic in the heart of the city, to treat the city's poor."
"When the police arrived around 5:30 a.m., they found Paul kneeling by the front door and bleeding profusely from three gunshot wounds and clutching his 2-year-old son," Landrieu said.
Landrieu explained the significance the killing had on the city as "profound."
A map of New Orleans was displayed to the committee, with numerous dots pinpointing open murder cases, solved murder cases and just one dot representing the one solved murder — out of 91 so far this year — that was successfully prosecuted.
Landrieu said she hoped Wednesday's hearing would be an opportunity for witnesses to talk about how best to use the federal government's resources.
Displaying a picture of the group of FEMA trailers that serves as the New Orleans police department's temporary headquarters, Landrieu said, "We're lucky just to have these trailers attached to the ground. God help us if another hurricane comes. Because NOPD still lacks central evidence storage which was, in large part, destroyed by the storm — we're putting our evidence into the back of an 18-wheel trailer."
Vitter said the most important thing the federal government can do is to leverage support for New Orleans' law enforcement departments.
"This problem ultimately will not be solved because of federal resources alone or because of federal personnel," Vitter said. "This problem is a local crime problem, which, at its core, is only going to be solved by proper action and discipline and organization on the ground, particularly within the New Orleans police department and the New Orleans district attorney's office."
The second panel included U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Louisiana, Jim Letten, Orleans Parish juvenile court Chief Judge David Bell, New Orleans police department deputy superintendent Anthony Cannatella, and president of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, Robert Stellingworth.
Letten briefed the committee on the impact federal law enforcement officers have had on crime in New Orleans and about the federal government's plan of action in the city.