After a pause following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans appears to have returned to its 2004 murder rate, says Time magazine. In 2004, there were 56 murders for every 100,000 people. That was about eight times the murder rate in New York City. Today, there are far fewer people in New Orleans, and so fewer dead bodies. But in February, seven people were murdered. The tally this month, at four murders so far, looks headed in a similar direction. At this rate, 54 people will be murdered in New Orleans this year for every 100,000 people in the city. Time is using a population estimate of 155,000 by Rand, which has been asked to do regular estimates by the Bring New Orleans Back Commission.
“Are we back to the good old days?” wonders Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the University of New Orleans. “Are all the things that made New Orleans embarrassing before the storm coming back?” New Orleans’ new Police Superintendent, Warren Riley, has noted that the city has a rare opportunity to reinvent its criminal-justice system. During his four months on the job, Riley has received praise for firing at least 86 officers and working to better track gangs and repeat offenders. In recent weeks, several members of a South American gangs have also been arrested in the area–something that was unusual before Katrina. With fewer police, a decimated court system and a history of entrenched malfeasance, the city is extremely vulnerable. “The discussion I’ve been having with people is, “Could you end up worse off?” says Scharf, who worries not just about the absence of police but about the disruption in the lives of criminals and potential criminals.