Chris Uggen's Blog: katrina, police, and social control

Thursday, September 01, 2005

katrina, police, and social control

Some of the saddest reports from Hurricane Katrina involve looting and a breakdown in informal social controls and public safety. While no law enforcement agency could efficiently operate in such disastrous conditions, New Orleans is especially poorly positioned. Long before the hurricane, the city had an extremely high and rising rate of homicide and gun violence, a long record of corruption, and too few officers and staff in both the police department and prosecutor's offices. They were also poorly paid: according to Law Enforcement Management Administrative Statistics for 2000, starting pay for a new officer in New Orleans was $25,164 and the only educational requirement was a high school diploma (by way of comparison, St. Paul, MN, starts officers at $37,860 and requires at least a two-year degree at entry). Similarly, Louisiana State Patrol officers start at $22,716 and lack collective bargaining for both sworn and civilian officers (relative to $38,252 with collective bargaining in Minnesota).

I do not point this out as a hindsight critique or an insensitive shot at the many good officers working around the clock in New Orleans. It is just disheartening for a criminologist to watch other cities laying off officers or stretching their forces to the breaking point while law enforcement is so overwhelmed in New Orleans. Is it unreasonable to think that such cutbacks will put public safety at risk elsewhere in coming years? Or to think that we might make a more rational allocation of our existing public safety dollars?

7 Comments:

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous valerio said...

okay, this: "Last year, university researchers conducted an experiment in which police fired 700 blank rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood in a single afternoon. No one called to report the gunfire." (from the usa today article link)is crazy. btw, i've been to new orleans, and had incredible time there, but the social division (spatial) is more than conspicous. if you walk down canal street, and you look to your left (french quarter), and right ("projects"), it really makes you feel bad.

 
At 2:40 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

Valerio, I'm not sure what to make of the USA Today report, but it is interesting that the article came out just two weeks before the hurricane. It makes me even more discouraged about the prospects for a quick recovery there.

 
At 2:41 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

From what I've been reading, it seems a major issue is lack of space for housing of arrestees. My best braistorm so far is to sail in a big navy ship and create a floating detention center. But I don't suppose that's particularly practical...

 
At 3:00 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

Some have suggested bringing in a "brig" or two -- large navy or coast guard ships to house those folks who are doing the most damage. Hopefully they won't focus on the easiest "looters" to catch -- the poor moms and dads grabbing food for their kids. At this point, they will need serious numbers and resources to restore any kind of order.

 
At 4:57 PM, Blogger gonebabygone said...

Don't even get me started on Detroit! We've been watching this happen for decades. How they can close 4 out of the 12 remaining precincts and say that they are "strengthening the city" is beyond me. They think because they are building million dollar lofts where there used to be abandoned buildings, the gang shootings will stop and the drug addicts will suddenly be clean.

 
At 5:08 PM, Anonymous chris said...

Fishy, I think we've been lulled into complacency by (generally) declining crime rates. But laying off officers or not taking in new recruiting classes is probably not in Detroit's (or any city's) long-term interests. Believe me, they won't be able to sell those lofts unless the citizens and their neighborhoods feel safe -- and they'll need a well-staffed, professional, community-oriented police force to feel that way.

 
At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Aaron Prevo said...

Not bad.

 

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