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Department Of Justice to Help Katrina Victims

  Human Rights  -   POSTED: 2007/02/13 17:17

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced today a multi-faceted Department of Justice initiative to assist the city of New Orleans in its continued recovery from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. The Department will be committing federal resources to support the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) efforts to reestablish its local crime laboratory, funding to provide assistance to victims and witnesses of crimes, and a grant to establish a Family Justice Center.

“Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department has taken unprecedented measures to support state and local law enforcement efforts to rebuild the infrastructure that is critical to fighting crime in New Orleans and surrounding parishes,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “Today we are reinforcing our efforts by committing important resources to assist crime victims and local law enforcement officers. The road to recovery is long, but the Justice Department is committed to helping state and local law enforcement establish a safer New Orleans.”

The Justice Department is allocating resources to help reestablish the NOPD Crime Lab, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The lack of a permanent and functional crime lab in New Orleans has led to significant delays in the processing and analysis of important evidence such as blood, drugs and ballistics. In the absence of a permanent forensics lab, the NOPD has been using space provided by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Louisiana State Police, and services provided by Justice Department agencies whenever possible. Through the assistance and financial support of FEMA, as well as that of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, the city has acquired the space necessary to establish a single dedicated NOPD crime lab at the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Center. The NOPD will hire additional technicians to assist in processing evidence and clearing the backlog that has built up since Katrina.

The Justice Department has also announced that it will fund two highly trained victim assistance specialists for the next three years. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the local criminal justice system has faced many challenges, including the need to provide advice and assistance to victims and witnesses of crimes. The victim specialists will establish a regional victims services committee to lead and coordinate victims assistance efforts within Orleans and Jefferson Parishes; provide essential training and outreach to communities and participating local law enforcement offices as well as schools, community centers and faith-based organizations; educate the general population as well as victims about the criminal justice process; and provide essential advice, counseling and services to victims and witnesses served by the local criminal justice system. The specialists will be stationed in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The funding for the specialists was made possible through the close collaboration of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Office of Justice Programs.

To provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, the Justice Department is committing up to $3 million to create a comprehensive victim service and support center, where victims can find the services they need in one central location. The Department’s Office on Violence Against Women is working with partners in the public and private sectors to identify the most effective way to help victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault crimes in New Orleans, by providing multiple services in a single location, including emergency housing, medical care, counseling, law enforcement assistance, faith-based services, social services and employment assistance, among others.

The Department already has helped 15 communities across the country establish comprehensive domestic violence victim service and support centers through the implementation of the President’s Family Justice Center Initiative. The grant announced today will likely be utilized to establish a center that replicates this model.

The initiatives announced today build on previous efforts by the Justice Department to assist New Orleans in rebuilding its law enforcement services post-Katrina. In January 2007, the Justice Department outlined additional law enforcement resources that are acting as a force multiplier to state and local law enforcement officers dedicated to fighting violent crime in New Orleans. The additional federal resources include six Assistant U.S. Attorneys, six additional ATF Special Agents to work with the New Orleans Violent Crime Impact Team, nine additional FBI agents to supplement the New Orleans Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force, and three additional Deputy U.S. Marshals and an investigative analyst to support the Crescent Star Fugitive Task Force.

Teams of U.S. Department of Justice personnel have been embedded with the NOPD to develop more cases against dangerous individuals for federal prosecution.  In the weeks since that initiative began, a total of 24 individuals have been arrested in New Orleans directly related to the joint NOPD/Department of Justice efforts and have been charged via criminal complaint at the outset with serious violations of federal laws, including firearms violations and drug distribution charges.  One individual so charged remains wanted by federal authorities.  Additionally, 13 of the individuals arrested on these charges have already been indicted by federal grand juries for these serious crimes as the result of swift work by the law enforcement personnel and the federal prosecutors assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  

Following Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana was a driving force in the creation and continued vitality of the Southeast Louisiana Criminal Justice Recovery Task Force, and the Department has made more than $30 million in grants available to the city of New Orleans and Orleans Parish to help rebuild the criminal justice system. In total, the Department has made available to the state of Louisiana over $61 million in justice assistance grants and Katrina relief law enforcement infrastructure funds.

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