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Guard to keep aiding New Orleans police

/ Source: The Associated Press

National Guard troops bolstering New Orleans' hurricane-depleted police force will remain in the city through June, a spokeswoman for Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal said.

Guard troops have patrolled less-populated areas, including the storm-ravaged Lower 9th Ward, while the city and its police force have worked to bounce back from Hurricane Katrina and clamp down on violent crime. The Guard has had a continuous presence here since five teenagers were killed in June 2006.

At the city's request, Jindal will grant "one final extension" to allow new recruits to hit the streets and to develop what the City Council called "an effective strategy to mitigate the scourge of violent crime," Jindal press secretary Melissa Sellers said.

Jindal takes office Monday, succeeding Kathleen Blanco, who repeatedly extended the Guard's stay with the city making essentially the same argument.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley had wanted the soldiers and airmen to stay through August; summer is generally seen as a busy period for police. But Riley said Wednesday that Jindal's extension should give his department time to graduate two recruiting classes and put at least 100 new officers on the streets.

Police last year recorded 209 murders, 48 more than in 2006, as the population continued to grow following the August 2005 hurricane.

The city added $15.1 million to the police department's 2008 budget for recruiting, equipment and other needs, but figures provided by police spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse suggest the department is still struggling to bolster its ranks.

The department has about 1,400 officers, virtually unchanged from estimates last spring and far below its goal of 1,700, he said. Guard troops have been "essential" in temporarily making up the difference, Narcisse said.

Pay raises have slowed the rate of attrition to near pre-Katrina levels, Riley said, and the department is now beginning to add numbers.

The 360 Guard troops in the city can make stops and are involved in "all types of police work," with duties ranging from neighborhood patrols to helping with homicide cases, said Maj. Michael Kazmierzak, a Guard spokesman.

The state has so far spent $46 million to keep the Guard and state troopers in the city. Lawmakers will need to approve more dollars to cover the extended presence Jindal plans to grant.