Sunday, October 29, 2006

Katrina Crime in San Antonio

A good article from San Antonio’s Express-News investigating the relationship between Katrina evacuees and that city’s post-Katrina crime.

Their city officials have been less apt to blame higher crime numbers on Katrina evacuees and offer up a reason why Houston officials are playing up the Myth of the Katrina Criminal:

Houston's attempt to peg a statistical correlation of higher crime rates to the arrival of evacuees has brought in millions of dollars to help pay its police and fire bills. But that city's correlation — and the Express-News' attempt to replicate Houston's analysis — is open to debate.

***

In Houston, which also received five times as many evacuees as San Antonio, the statistical impact is not much greater because its population is three times the Alamo City's size.

After tracing murders and noting leaps in other violent crime near resettlement areas, the administration of Houston Mayor Bill White has aggressively pursued more than $30 million in federal money for public safety costs. The money has gone to pay police and fire overtime and for five new police academy training classes.

***

Houston has claimed the evacuee link wholeheartedly, with some success. Houston won an $18 million Department of Justice grant after White lobbied Houston's congressional delegation.

"My opinion is it never hurts to ask," said Gary E. Gray, assistant director for Houston's finance department. "If you don't ask what's possible, nothing's going to happen."
The Myth of the Katrina Criminal is worth millions of dollars to Houston.

The San Antonio article seems to imply that there *is* a link – officials simply haven’t looked hard enough or in the right places. But the best evidence the authors can uncover from the experts, officials, or community members they interviewed is that the rise in crime at the same time Katrina evacuees arrived is an unlikely “coincidence.” That’s not much proof.

One Texas criminologist offers up the most likely explanation for the rise in crime that can be supported by the facts:
"I think saying that [Katrina evacuees are causing more crime in the cities they go to] comes pretty close to demonizing people who were evacuated. All you can say is that's interesting, that went up," said Dr. Michael J. Gilbert, associate professor in the University of Texas at San Antonio criminal justice department and Mayor Phil Hardberger's appointee to a local crime commission.

"While that's perfectly rational thinking, it may be misleading in terms of what this data may actually mean. I think they're (city of Houston) trying to make the best case they can to get money when it's not defensible."

He and other experts say the coincidence that a sudden spike in major crime occurred with the arrival of evacuees might easily be explained by population increases, shifts in police tactics or changing drug trade dynamics.
In other words, the criminals already in the cities where evacuees went suddenly had more people to commit crimes on, sell drugs to, rob, kill, or whatever. With more criminal activity, police targeted those areas with special task forces, rooting out more criminals, making more arrests, which resulted in even higher crime numbers – all the things that good myths are made of.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Katrina Deaths "well in excess of 2,000"

Not all of the victims of Katrina have the date August 29th, 2005, on their death certificate:

For now the official Hurricane Katrina death toll stands at 1,697.

But Columbia University geophysicist and earth scientist John Mutter believes the number is "well in excess of 2,000.''

That's because Mutter isn't just counting people who drowned in Katrina's waters or were crushed because of the storm's powerful winds.

Mutter's count also would include the despondent evacuee who committed suicide, the suspected looter fatally shot, and the dialysis patient who died because the storm interrupted treatment.
Why count those deaths?
"I think we understand the financial losses better than the human losses and I think that's outrageous," said Mutter, who is deputy director of The Earth Institute at Columbia. "We should measure tragedy in human terms not financial terms."
We should also measure our rebuilding progress in terms of people, not finances. People, not buildings. People, not profit. People, not politics.

If not for people, why should we rebuild?

Louisiana’s Legal Bills

I’m not complaining, but, damn, lawyers sure do make a lot of money:

The state’s legal bills so far total more than $500,000 in the battle against the federal government over offshore oil and natural gas exploration.

***

Attorneys at Van Ness Feldman offered their legal expertise to the state at a reduced rate.

The firm’s top-shelf attorneys agreed to be paid $340 an hour instead of their normal rate of $475 an hour.
Do you have to make that much to be happy?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Chris Roberts

For a point of reference, a “dumping ground” is a place where you throw something undesirable, like trash:

Councilman Chris Roberts, who sponsored the resolution passed last week, said 88 percent of Jefferson’s 1,800 Section 8 vouchers are on the parish’s west bank and accused the federal government of “using the west bank as a dumping ground.”
Last week, public housing dwellers were either “ignorant or lazy.” This week they are like trash.

And, furthering the Myth of the Katrina Criminals right here at home, people living on Section 8 vouchers are also, apparently, the source of all crime:
“This area has more than its fair share of subsidized government housing,” Roberts said, adding the west bank — largely unflooded after Katrina — has seen a “spike in crime” since the storm.

“The crime problem is on the west bank.”
In other public housing news, a group is suing HANO saying the agency is “purposely stalling the redevelopment process in order to prevent poor families from returning” to damaged public housing developments.

HANO won’t reopen the developments just yet because they plan to revamp them. But HUD, also being sued, says there is no plan:
"HUD has no plan, your honor," said attorney Daniel Riess, who represents the government agency.

That statement drew a double take from U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle.

"You're saying the court has no authority to review until the whole plan is given to HUD?" Lemelle asked. "Has there been any effort (by HUD) to approach members of Congress to speed up the process given the horrible impact of Hurricane Katrina on public housing?"

"I'm not aware of any approach HUD has made," Reiss replied.

"You think it's time to do that?" Lemelle shot back. "Congress has acted already in other areas."
Although HUD’s attorney said there is no plan, HUD released a statement in June that seemed to lay out a plan for the closed public housing developments:
HUD will also use a mix of federal public housing funding HANO receives annually, as well as bond funds and Low Income Housing Tax Credits to redevelop C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte and St. Bernard, which endured moderate to severe damage. The units will be demolished to make way for a mixture of public housing, affordable rental housing and single-family homes.
If there is a plan to demolish the homes, then HANO can not let the residents move back in. If there is *no* plan to demolish the homes, then HANO *can* let the residents move back in. Either way, more than a year later, shouldn’t there be a plan?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Myth of the Katrina Criminals

I am not sold on the idea that 100,000 or so displaced Louisianians in Houston are to blame for that city’s crime problems.

Yes, homicides are up in Houston:

As of Oct. 16, the city had recorded 316 homicides, up 25 percent from the 252 slayings at this time last year. The Houston Police Department said an uptick in homicides by Hurricane Katrina evacuees has contributed to that increase.

"We recognize that the homicide rate is up as far as raw numbers and as well as percentages relative to the population," said Capt. Dwayne Ready. "We also recognize that Katrina evacuees continue to have an impact on the murder rate."
But overall crime is down in Houston:
Per capita crime, defined as the number of crimes per 100,000 residents, has decreased in the city, with the violent crime rate down 3 percent this year.
And crime is down in the surrounding areas:
Houston-area suburbs saw crime rates drop in five of six counties last year, according to the latest statistics released by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

***

The types of crimes counted in the report are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft.
The first article cites 65 murders this year “classified as Katrina-related, meaning either the victim, suspect or both evacuated to Houston after Katrina.” I fail to see how being killed in another city contributes to the crime problem there. What I am more interested in is the exact number of how many suspects in those murders were Katrina evacuees or how many of the Katrina evacuee victims were involved in illegal activities when they were killed.

Even if all the Louisianians involved in the “Katrina-related” murders were criminals, I still fail to see how an entire population can be considered criminals for the crimes committed by the actual criminals among them. That’s exactly what some Houston residents were saying back in August when they were asking for “the New Orleans residents to go home.”

Those same residents are still spreading the Myth of the Katrina Criminal:
Another tenant, who broke his lease and left because of problems he blames on the Katrina evacuees, such as vandalism and drug activity, so feared for his family's safety while living at the complex that he considered buying a gun.

"It was the worst several months of my life, actually, living there," said Chris Ostapowicz, who started a Web page called "The Crap At Lakeside."


***

"I know what it was like before (the evacuees arrived) and I know what it was like after. And it's dramatically different," said Walnut Bend resident Brenda Mueller, whose property abuts the apartment complex. "It's gotten to the point that I'm afraid to let my child play in the backyard now."

Her neighbor Ken Chance said he is planning to sell his home of 29 years though he has not experienced any violent crime firsthand.

"I truly believe it's just a matter of time before we start experiencing the break-ins," Chance said.

While crime at the apartments has always been cyclical, Rench said, "I truly am concerned it could get worse very easily and very quickly."
These residents share the perception that the displaced Louisianians are causing a rise in criminal activity. They long for the good old days before “they” came, back when their neighborhood was safer.

Or was it?
Their concerns are not without some foundation. Houston Police Department statistics show the frequency of crime at 10950 Briar Forest — and the number of times police have been called there — increased in the year after the storm.

But it was not as if those numbers soared to unprecedented levels. Rather, they virtually equaled statistics recorded two years earlier — well before Hurricane Katrina struck.
So, overall crime is down in Houston and virtually the same as two years ago in one specific neighborhood that was very vocal about their fear of the displaced Louisianians among them. The overall crime numbers don’t seem to support the Myth of the Katrina Criminal.

But what about those higher homicide numbers? Well, I’ve got an alternative explanation for the rise in murders. More people are being murdered in Houston because there are more people for Houston drug dealers to murder:
A Houston man described by police as "a new breed of killer" is charged or suspected in at least seven homicides in 11 weeks stemming from a war between entrenched Houston drug dealers and their newly arrived rivals from New Orleans.

***

Investigators say that Williams' killing spree began June 16, only 23 days after his release from prison, where he had served nearly two years on a drug conviction. By Sept. 1, police say, Williams had shot at least eight people, killing seven, all but one within the same two blocks of northwest Houston.
I also suspect that some of the murders here in New Orleans may be attributed to new, more sophisticated and more deadly techniques that local drug dealers learned after making new alliances with bigger, more organized dealers in some of the larger cities, like Houston, that they evacuated to.

But that’s just speculation at this point. I’m not ready to say THANKS HOUSTON for deadlier drug dealers just yet.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ignorant or Lazy

Are those my only choices?

[Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris] Roberts hasn't held back when characterizing Section 8 tenants as leaches on society.

***

"With the number of jobs out there, nobody should be on public housing unless you're ignorant or lazy," he said after Wednesday's meeting, before clarifying that he is sympathetic to people who cannot work because of disabilities.
That’s a ridiculous statement, especially after Katrina and the floods. With the public housing stock depleted in New Orleans and rising rents all around, those who relied on public housing before the storm can’t afford to come back to New Orleans. And, according to Roberts and the Jefferson Parish Council, they aren’t welcome next door:
At the request of a West Bank councilman who said low-income housing invites crime, the Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday backed his opposition in Gretna and Terrytown to developers' applications for federal tax credits designed to replenish the storm-ravaged region's housing stock.

Councilman Chris Roberts sponsored the resolution telling the Louisiana Recovery Authority that the parish government objects to any applications for tax credits to build apartment complexes or single-family homes in Gretna and Terrytown.
Yes, I am sure statistics say that crime is higher in areas of concentrated low-income housing. But it is wrong to say that low-income housing causes higher crime. The social ills that caused the need for concentrated areas of low-income housing are also to blame for the crime that goes along with them. You can’t eliminate crime by eliminating low-income housing. Try fair education and workers’ rights to achieve that end.

Mr. Roberts should also realize that many people living in public housing did have jobs. However, if you are (a) a single parent (b) with a family to support (c) and a substandard public education (d) which failed to give you the knowledge and skills required to enter the competitive job market (e) and you have a working-poor-wage job in the highly touted tourism industry (f) and have high transportation costs because you can’t afford to live near downtown where you work (g) not to mention child care costs because you have to work evenings, even with that job you would still be eligible for public housing and the lower rent would certainly help.

Living in public housing does not mean you are ignorant and lazy.

Now I am going to talk about race.

Jack Stumpf, who is “a prominent West Bank landowner” and has used tax credits before to build single-family homes in Gretna, told the T-P this:
"I would say now we're just getting a disproportionate share of the lower-income families than we had before," he said. "It's changing the whole complexion of the area."
Stumpf probably did not use “complexion” to mean “the natural color, texture, and appearance of the skin.” But, I think Roberts had a particular complexion in mind when he asked for the resolution to be passed:
"You would be having folks in Orleans Parish who lived in public housing complexes into Jefferson Parish. That's just not something I'm interested in."
Public housing developments in New Orleans were mostly filled with African-Americans. The “folks” Roberts is talking about are almost exclusively black folks.

Only 20 percent of the units in New Orleans’ public housing developments have reopened. Around 1,000 units are open out of 5,000 before Katrina. Those 4,000 families left without their previous homes are a specific population of mostly African-Americans that don’t have a place to return in New Orleans, and HANO has made it clear that’s fine with them:
"To the extent that there are no alternative accommodations available in New Orleans, HANO certainly has no duty to provide plaintiffs with housing in New Orleans," attorney Rachel Wisdom wrote on behalf of HANO and its administrators, HUD officials Donald Babers and William Thorson.

"It is an unfortunate result of the hurricane that many people who would like to live in New Orleans simply cannot do so at the present time," wrote Wisdom, of the New Orleans firm Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittmann, LLC. "Plaintiffs have been provided with housing vouchers to use anywhere they want, whether in New Orleans, as some have done, or in nearby Louisiana communities or those out of state."
Even with the vouchers, this specific population would be shut out by resolutions limiting or banning new low-income housing in surrounding parishes.

Another important point to remember is that the black population of New Orleans was disproportionately affected by the floods. I have broken it down before thusly:
Seventy-five percent of the African-American residents in New Orleans was affected by Katrina’s floods while only half of New Orleans’ white residents was affected. With a population breakdown of 67% African-American and 27% white in pre-Katrina New Orleans, that means more than 240,000 African-Americans were effected compared to around 64,000 whites. Therefore, while there are 2.5 times more black than white residents in New Orleans, 3.75 times more black residents were affected by the storm.
One would expect more African-Americans to be affected by the floods because there are more African-Americans in New Orleans. My point is that not only a higher number of African-Americans were flooded out, a higher percentage of the total black population was affected. That makes it disproportionate.

So, disproportionately more African-Americans are trying to move back to an area that has a housing shortage and higher prices for available housing. While this is not racist, it only accentuates the problems African-Americans are having moving back, which is reflected by recent population numbers [PDF] that say the white population is at 60 percent of what it was before Katrina but the black population is at 27 percent of the pre-Katrina population.

What *is* racist is the passing of resolutions and ordinances that make it even harder for African-Americans to return. I am not talking individual racism. I am talking about institutional racism – actions by an institution that, no matter what their original intent, have an end result that is racist.

The resolution passed by the Jefferson Parish Council along with the ordinance passed by the St. Bernard Council making it harder for non-white people to rent in St. Bernard combined with a disproportionately higher number of African-Americans trying to move back to the area as well as a disproportionately higher number of African-Americans displaced by public housing development closures would have an end result making it harder for African-Americans to move back to the New Orleans area.

It doesn’t matter what the intentions of the councils were when they voted. The end result affects one race disproportionately more than another. That is racism.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Take Cover

According to Nagin: "We may be getting ready to explode."

Nagin otherwise sounded a largely upbeat tone during his speech, noting that 97 percent of the city’s medium and large companies have returned and 120,000 city building permits have been issued since Katrina (he said that is the number of permits that normally would be issued over a 7- to 8-year span) with a value of $3.5 billion. There is another $3 billion to $4 billion of ongoing commercial development in the city now with much more to come, he added.
Concerning the permits, 120,000 being issued is a positive marker. However, Nagin’s 7-to-8 year span analogy doesn’t mean the recovery is going 7 to 8 times faster than normal. That just means that the hurricane and floods caused in three days the amount damage that would normally occur in 7 to 8 years.

I am not trying to Nagin-hate here. But Nagin made a few comments I don’t get at a luncheon yesterday, like his population numbers for New Orleans that are at odds with state numbers:
Nagin said he believes the parish’s population, which topped 460,000 pre-Katrina, is closer to 250,000 today and headed toward 274,000 by January.

***

“I don’t know where that came from,’’ he said of the state’s estimate of 187,525 Orleans residents. “Don’t ask me why the state would come out with a report like that.’’
What, this report?
Known officially as the 2006 Louisiana Health and Population Survey, the project employs a standard U.S. Census Bureau method for conducting population estimates, with modifications made to these methods to account for the effects of the 2005 hurricane season.

"The survey methodology was developed with advice from technical experts on population surveys at the CDC and the Census Bureau," said David Bowman, lead researcher with the LRA. "This allows us to make precise, valid comparisons between these results and those from previous Census reports."
Right, why should we trust the Census Bureau’s methods?

Yes, the state is dragging its feet when it comes to handing out the LRA money. But, this statement by Nagin is just as damning of himself as it is of the state:
“Anybody got a Road Home check in here?” he asked sarcastically, but no one in the audience of nearly 150 people raised a hand. “I’m searching for one, just one.”

“I’ve tried everything under the sun to accelerate the LRA money. We’ve done everything. I don’t know,’’ the mayor said.
It sounds like he’s giving up, like there’s nothing he – as mayor of the city – can do to make the process faster and better. Is that how a leader should approach a problem?

And he had a message for the press, being that it was a press-sponsored luncheon:
“We’re at a very fragile time as a city. Residents are stressed out. They’re looking for hope,’’ he said. “Help us to get people to see possibilities instead of what is not going right. I’m asking you to be accurate, but if it can tip on the positive side, do it.’’
We all see the “possibilities.” But it’s “what is not going right” that is standing in the way of achieving what is possible. We don’t need the press to be a cheerleader. We need them to be a bulldog.

What I think he meant to say was, “Hey, press. Don’t scare away the tourists.”

On his endorsing Jefferson:
“I went through a very tough re-election cycle. There were few people who helped me. William Jefferson was one of them,’’ he said. “I don’t know about the legal stuff. I don’t know if he’s going to make it at the end of the day.’’
That’s a good reason as a citizen to still vote for him. But, as a representative of the city, that is not a good reason to endorse him.

On the French Quarter:
“It is looking a little rough right now,’’ Nagin said. “The homeless population is doing it. It’s also been described as the Super Bowl of prostitution.’’

The mayor said the police department is preparing a “blitz’’ to “clear out some of what I just talked about.’’
I would assume that the police are planning a “blitz” to clear out the homeless and prostitutes in the Quarter instead of blitz in the city’s hot spots to clear out violent criminals and drug dealers because, well, bums and hookers don’t shoot back.

Anyway, there’s more in the article about being “a little disappointed’’ in the schools and about the “substantial progress’’ we’re making with our infrastructure. Go read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Problem in a Nutshell

In the recovery after the hurricanes, one aspect of the federal government’s incompetence has bitten local officials in the butt many times. The following example of a federally initiated posterior chomping happened in Mississippi, but could and has happened all along the Gulf Coast.

And surprise, surprise. It involves FEMA:

Then there is a bill Rose says FEMA still owes the city for having its sewage system smoke-tested after the hurricane. The system was clogged in some places and broken in others by storm waters, and the city proposed having smoke injected to locate serious leaks.

A FEMA official who was running things in Harrison County after the hurricane approved the idea, Rose said. That official is now gone.

The city had the testing done, paid $31,000 for the work and then asked FEMA for reimbursement.

"Now they say they're not going to pay for it," Rose said.
On more than one occasion, I have heard local officials complain that FEMA promised to fund a project, then new FEMA officials took over and decided they wouldn’t fund it. The work had already happened, though, and local officials had to either pay for it from their depleted bank accounts or waste time and resources fighting with the federal government to *do what it said it would do.*

You can’t solve an equation when the givens keep changing. When the federal government says it will do something, local officials plan accordingly. When the federal government doesn’t do what it says it will do, the local officials’ plans fail accordingly.

The Gulf States affected by the storms and floods are asking for a lot. But at this point in the recovery, we are not asking for handouts. We are asking for the federal government to do what it said it would do.

Around the anniversary of Katrina, federal officials were fond of reminding the American people of all the funding they said was coming to the Gulf Coast. Of course, we then learned that less than half of the money they said was coming had actually arrived.

It ain’t what you say. It’s what you do. (At least, that’s what I tell lil po’ boy.)

The President came down here
a year and a month ago and said:
And tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.
And we planned accordingly. But it’s going to take a little more and take a little longer for us to rebuild our communities and our lives. And it will take the federal government doing what it says it will do for us to do what we need to do.