2005 September 08 Thursday
Police Were Underfunded Along With Levees In New Orleans

Mac Johnson says New Orleans was barely under control in the best of times and the city did not spend enough money on police.

Many people believe that Washington, D.C., is the “murder capital of America.” And indeed it often is, but that is only because such rankings are limited to “major cities” –those with a population of 500,000 or more, and New Orleans has (or had) a population of 485,000. Were it not for this actuarial accident, Washington, D.C.. wouldn’t even have a shot at the murder title. The per capita murder rate in New Orleans is 16% higher than in “Murder Capital” Washington, D.C.; and nearly 10 times the national average. To have a murder rate equal to that of New York City, New Orleans would need to reduce its murders by 86%. No, that’s not a typo.

At a time when crime is plummeting in most of America, it has been steadily increasing in New Orleans. And one cause is simple: The New Orleans City Government has run its law enforcement apparatus into the ground. On a per capita basis, New Orleans has less than half as many cops as Washington, D.C.: just 3.1 police officers per 1,000 citizens. Turnover has become a huge issue, as young cops leave at the first opportunity. A report conducted for the city two years ago said that New Orleans was “bleeding police officers.”

The taxpayers of New Orleans did not want to vote for property taxes high enough to pay for either a levee strong enough to protect the city from a natural disaster or for a police force strong enough to protect it from a human disaster. They made very short-sighted choices at great costs.

Why should the taxpayers of the whole United States pay to rebuild the parts of New Orleans that are below water level? If the city is not a financially viable concern it should shrink just as other declining cities have shrunk. The federal government should not reward imprudence, irresponsibility, and corruption with continued subsidy. To do so just encourages more of the same.

I have an even more fundamental objection to using federal tax money to rebuild New Orleans: The city seems destined to sink under water. By keeping its soil dry and preventing floods that build up the surface level the levees that keep out the water seem to doom New Orleans to continued subsidence. If anyone can point to expert commentary on why that is not the case please post in the comments or email to me. What I've come across so far (and thanks to Robert Schwartz for this link) argues that New Orleans is going to keep sinking.

First, all river deltas tend to subside as fresh sediment (supplied during floods) compacts and is transformed into rock. The Mississippi River delta is no exception. In the early to mid-20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers was charged with protecting New Orleans from recurring natural floods. At the same time, the Corps kept the river (and some related canals) along defined pathways. These well-intended defensive measures prevented the natural transport of fresh sediments into the geologically subsiding areas. The protected land and the growing city sank, some of it to the point that it is now 10 feet below sea level.

An argument can be made for projects to restore controlled flooding into some parts of the delta in order to prevent further delta erosion. But such projects should be approached in the spirit of efforts underway in the Everglades to restore some of the natural waterflow there. Maintenance of a navigable river channel and port facilities do not also require maintenance of large urban and suburban living areas. Highly automated ports do not require a large nearby urban population as a source of workers. Therefore the expense of large levees around New Orleans can not find justification in economic arguments about trade.

If New Orleans is to be restored then it should not get a large population in its lower lying areas until stronger levees are built. Otherwise we could spend a lot of money and then witness a repeat hurricane strike causing large scale death and destruction. But if levees get built that will take years and by then most of the former residents of New Orleans will have developed their lives and found work in other communities. So what is the point of restoring the lower lying areas of New Orleans to be able to hold hundreds of thousands of people?

Also see my previous post "Should New Orleans Get Rebuilt And Who Should Pay For It?"

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 September 08 01:17 AM  Politics Money

John S Bolton said at September 8, 2005 2:26 AM:

A place where such a large percentage of the population is complicit in trying to legalize murder or aggression of many classes, ought to suffer a penalty. It should not be rewarded with improvements. Hopefully considerably less than half the former residents will be readmitted. The longer its worst sections stay in decrepitude, the better. The most violent were rewarded with more and better housing for generations, as successive districts' former residents reached their limits of tolerance for aggression. The mayor may be falling into a paranoid condition of insanity, as he says he has forebodings that the CIA will kill him soon. Or perhaps he is doing drugs. The liberal view of people as well behaved, when not constrained by the selfish bourgeois morality and its laws, has taken a conspicuous bellyflop into the putrefying waters of New Orleans. They weren't altogether shortsighted; they knew that spending on law enforcement would take away from the black man's freedom for aggression, and thus also from the power of officials. If you are selling remedies for failure, which increase your power, you need more failure, and you know how to get it.

Bulldog said at September 8, 2005 4:29 AM:

How did New Orleans turn into "Haiti North?" How can a mere metropolitan police force patrol a population as unruly as Haiti's? When you're dealing with the population of Haiti, nothing's going to be pretty.

Ned said at September 8, 2005 5:50 AM:

One reason the citizens of New Orleans may have been reluctant to vote for higher taxes for things such as levee improvemnets and better police protection is that so much of the tax money is siphoned off in corruption rather than being properly spent on the purposes for which it was intended.

Pearsall said at September 8, 2005 5:57 AM:

Randall, another one of the problems that the NOPD has had has been its residency requirement - basically, that all cops have to live in the city. This was originally instituted to lower the percentage of whites on the force (which it certainly has done) but the side effect is that the potential recruiting pool has been a lot shallower.

Randall Parker said at September 8, 2005 9:07 AM:


But why did the people tolerate the corruption? Without a public with sufficient virtue a democracy is doomed.


Yes, I reported on the residency requirement and other reasons the police were weak here: "New Orleans Police Go AWOL.

asdf said at September 8, 2005 9:28 AM:

Better to have the underclass concentrated in one place than spread out across America. I say NO should be rebuilt.

Robert Schwartz said at September 8, 2005 11:24 AM:

I am reposting what I posted in the previous thread (which was poisened by the rantings of a single person) in hopes of some discussion:

Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons are going to do things that will stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon, beauty. Think big.

-Daniel Burnham, 1909 [Burnham was the architect who drew up the master plan for Chicago]

We can't rebuild NO as a productive city in its current location. Look at a map. The Louisiana coast is a swamp. There is no good place to build a port city. The best nautural port on the Central Gulf is Mobile Bay. Furthermore the lower Mississippi is and always will be a problem, but we need the water transportation. Thus my solution put the Mississippi barge traffic in a canal and leave the course of the river at Cape Girardeau.

Furthermore, read this: Shelters Grow Empty as Apartments Open Up (Simon Romero, 9/08/05, NY Times). "In a stunning turnaround for some of the most besieged victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Astrodome population dwindled to about 3,000 on Wednesday from an estimated 15,000 over the weekend, with many people seizing on local job opportunities and inexpensive housing."

There will not be 500,000 New Orleansians to occupy a rebuilt city. A new city can be fairly small.

Step 1: Sell the French Quarter and the other historic areas of NO to Disney and let them build CajunWorld. Put the working bits elsewhere.

Step 2: build a shipping canal parallel to and west of the main channel of the Mississippi from Cape Girardeau to Memphis, and east of the Mississippi from Memphis to Jackson, then along the Pearl River and then further east to Mobile. Use Mobile Bay as the transshipment point to the Gulf. Restore the Mississippi to its natural state allowing it to flow to the Gulf along the Atchafalaya.

Cost, I don't know. IANAE. My guess, probably less than the cost of the Iraq War (Which I thought to be nessecary and desirable, the example is used to show that we can easily afford it).

At any rate we can reduce future spending on River control and collect tolls from the barges on the canal.

Ned said at September 8, 2005 12:33 PM:

Why do people in New Orleans (or elsewhere) tolerate such blatant corruption? Who knows? Answers to questions like that are more the province of the philosopher or maybe the psychiatrist. But corruption in Louisiana has a very long history, going way back before the days of Huey Long. Once many years ago I visited my college roommate and his family
in a small town in Louisiana. On Sunday afternoon we decided to go fishing. He said wanted to get some beer for the trip. I said that I thought sales of alcohol were illegal on Sunday in the parish. He said, "Don't worry - we'll get it at the ice house - they pay off" (and they did). On the way home we stopped for dinner at a roadhouse bar. There was open gambling, casino style, taking place in the front room (same answer).

Nichole Gestiner takes a pessimistic view of NO's past and future:


Rob said at September 8, 2005 1:15 PM:

What to do with the evacuees/refugees? I think something like Jerry Pournelle's Welfare Islands will happen. The nonghetto population has realized that the thin blue line is not a solid enough barrier when things go wrong. They'll want harder to cross physical barriers, not just for NO, but for all potential evacuees.

mariana said at September 8, 2005 6:25 PM:

I read on another site that Louisiana still uses the Code Napoleon instead of the Anglo-American system. Does anyone know if that's true? A couple months ago I read about a study done comparing the two and the Anglo system came out ahead with the Code Napoleon utterly failing. As a Catholic I feel awful saying this, but, given its French heritage, are the majority of people there Catholic? Or was it populated by French Huguenots? I think if you want to change the culture that tolerates such corruption you probably need a lot of Puritan-like Jesus freaks.

John S Bolton said at September 8, 2005 7:21 PM:

In the emergency powers situation, these codes can hardly be said to differ. The problem is more one of the presumption of innocence being rhetorically applied to violent retardates in a condition of duress, while a presumption of guilt is laid upon the rescuers, proximate and remote.

Pearsall said at September 9, 2005 8:17 AM:

Mariana, Louisiana's legal code is indeed based on the Napoleonic Code. See here.

Catholics are actually a minority, but they make up 30% of the state's population, which is significantly higher than anywhere else in the South.

Pearsall said at September 9, 2005 8:19 AM:

I should have said 'based on similar principles to the Napoleonic Code'. Louisiana became part of the United States before Napoleon issued his code.

Proborders said at September 9, 2005 8:35 AM:

"In Poll, Most Say Abandon Flooded Areas" is posted here.

mariana said at September 9, 2005 12:26 PM:

Thanks for the links Pearsall.

robert young said at March 9, 2006 7:28 PM:

i think that this conversation is controlled by a bias group of ca cacations that don't want to spend tax dollars on a largely black community that has crime in a city that is controlled by heathens in which the government allows to house so that they can have drug money floating arround in the south to labeltit a black area in the nation. so they can ultimately keep the underclass is in their area or world of depression and crime

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