Although New Orleans’ population is about half of its prestorm count of 480,000, crime–especially the murder rate–is worse than before Katrina, says the Chicago Tribune. That means New Orleans today ranks not only among the deadest cities in America, but also the deadliest. Last year, the city reported 161 murders, 96 per 100,000 residents, according to a Tulane University study that adjusted for the city’s population fluctuations. So far this year, the count is more than 60.
Katrina did not create the crime problem. Violence, encrusted poverty, a decrepit court system, and a distrusted police force have long plagued the city’s toughest neighborhoods. The thousands of homes and housing project apartments emptied by the storm and still abandoned provide drug dealers and other criminals with a vast warren of potential hide-outs. Demand for drugs has declined along with the population, while drug prices have dropped because the dealers who evacuated discovered new drug supply routes from Houston. The result has been a series of fierce turf wars over drugs. About the only reassurance police can offer is that most murders involve criminals killing other criminals. “If you’re not involved with the drug trade,” said a police spokesman, “you’re pretty safe in our city.”