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New Orleans police get new digs

After a trying year of more than 200 murders and a rise in crime, at least police once again have a permanent place to call home.
/ Source: The Associated Press

After a trying year of more than 200 murders and a rise in crime, at least the police once again have a permanent place to call home.

The New Orleans Police Department, which has operated out of trailers in the 2 1/2 years since Hurricane Katrina, dedicated a renovated headquarters Thursday that brings its major components back under one roof.

Crime has become a leading concern for local government and business leaders trying to attract investment, boost tourism and reassure residents that the city is on the mend.

The move to a permanent headquarters coincides with what Mayor Ray Nagin believes is a crucial time in the city's recovery. It "sends the signal that the criminal justice system is back," he said.

Nagin said he thinks having key departments such as investigations and the superintendent's office housed in the same building will help morale and stanch the flow of officers from the force's depleted ranks.

'This was not easy'
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Superintendent Warren Riley spoke of how difficult it has been rebuilding police ranks without a permanent headquarters.

"It was an awful situation that we were in," he told the crowd that included law enforcement and city officials. "It was 19th-century conditions, and this was not easy."

The August 2005 storm scattered the department, forcing officers to work from temporary office space and federally issued trailers. Some trailers, police said, had no bathrooms and unreliable Internet access.

City officials cited bureaucracy as a major challenge in reopening the facility, which took on about 8 feet of water.

Now, the remodeled first floor contains bright rooms and a sprawling reception area, said Sgt. Joe Narcisse, a police spokesman. Upper levels of the five-story building, which were not damaged by flooding, were cleaned and outfitted with old furniture, he said.

Increase in enforcement
Police began moving into the building earlier this month, though some departments have yet to return and it's not clear how soon they'll be back.

Since June 2006, police ranks have been bolstered by help from Louisiana National Guard troops, but that help may be available for only a few more months.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he will extend the National Guard mission at the city's request until June, his spokeswoman said.

That should be enough time to graduate two more recruiting classes and get 100 more officers on the streets, Riley has said.

He also has said changes over the past year, including improved relations with the district attorney's office and a prosecution unit dedicated to violent crimes, have helped stop arrested offenders from being shuttled back onto the streets.

The city also has added about $15.1 million to the police department's 2008 budget for needs such as equipment and recruiting.

The city estimates the renovation project cost at $7.25 million and said it has put up about $6.3 million of that. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has set aside $3.5 million for the work, the city said.

"Several million dollars should be approved or (are) in the pipeline for being approved" after changes to project work orders, FEMA spokesman Ronnie Simpson said. He called the headquarters project "a great example of what FEMA does. Getting this up and running is a great sign of other projects soon to come."