Looting after Hurricane Katrina is not reflected in official crime statistics compiled by the New Orleans Police Department, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports Five months after the storm, police are recording more than half of the city’s looting complaints under a special code, 21K, developed shortly after the hurricane. The K stands for Katrina, and the 21 signifies “lost or stolen,” a standard prestorm designation used mostly in cases in which criminal activity is not clear-cut, such as when there’s no forced entry or a victim can’t recall when he or she last saw the missing property. “Lost or stolen” cases do not show up in publicly released crime reports.
The post-Katrina chaos made it difficult to separate legitimate looting complaints from storm losses and, to a lesser extent, false insurance claims, Police Superintendent Warren Riley said. The practice is beginning to draw critics, including some high-ranking police supervisors, who say the 21K designation has outlived its purpose. “If we’re not seeing an understandable rise in burglary and looting since the storm, then there’s a big problem in how the Police Department is conducting its business,” said Anthony Radosti of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a nonprofit watchdog group. “Creating a category for the hurricane might have been a good idea, but there has to be a cut-off date. Now it just looks like they’re cooking the statistics.” Some looting complaints show up under code 62, for burglary, a category that is reported to the FBI and released to the public. Under Louisiana law, looting is any burglary in which someone takes advantage of an emergency such as hurricane, flood or fire.