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Chief Riley is still confident enough to vow that New Orleans should never again rank among the 10 most violent cities in America. So far, the odds are against him. But he suggests another, more creative way to judge the health of his city after Katrina. Come back in a year, he says, and see how many from that original list of 112 are still in jail. Then compare the results with Houston. "My understanding is that Houston keeps these criminals in jail. Let's see if our system keeps these people in jail. That will be a great test."
Whatever happens in New Orleans, there are lessons for other places. It will not be the last time that a city is wiped out by a catastrophe, given Americans' preference for living in dense, coastal areas. Some of these lessons are easy to learn: store criminal records and evidence in a secure location above sea level, for one thing. After a calamity occurs, make sure an officer from the evacuated city helps identify notorious criminals in cities receiving refugees. And make sure FEMA is willing and able to help track dangerous evacuees as they move--a commonsense collaboration that took months to set up after Katrina, owing to privacy concerns.
For the first time in modern history, we now know what criminals will do after a mass exodus: just like everyone else, they will spend a couple of months getting their bearings. They will apply for aid and call people they care about on their cell phones. Then they will find one another and start killing one another again. They will go where the housing and the drug users are. Perhaps most important of all, they will carry with them the petty disputes of the past, along with their assumptions about the consequences. [This article contains a complex diagram. Please see hardcopy of magazine.] KATRINA'S DEADLY RIPPLES
New Orleans was a violent city before the hurricane displaced its entire population. Will the crime return with the people? Homicides in selected cities involving Katrina evacuees as either victims or suspects Victims Suspects Minneapolis 1 Victim Oklahoma City 3 Victims 3 Suspects
Dallas 1 Victim 3 Suspects
San Antonio 2 Suspects
Houston 30 Victims 33 Suspects Baton Rouge 3 Victims New Orleans
Columbus, Ga. 1 Victim 1 Suspect
Homicides in New Orleans, by month
Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 29, 2005
Source: New Orleans Police Department