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Wake of Disaster: New Orleans Crime Rates Following Hurricane Katrina

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In the Wake of Disaster: New Orleans Crime Rates Following Hurricane Katrina

Daily crime and disorder are major aspects of life in urban settings. Bars on first-floor windows, broken class, and warning signs of lost or stolen valuables suggest there is a significant amount of crime in the area. "These examples indicate not only the obvious--that the area around you is dangerous--but also that neighborhood developers failed to consider all of the people who would use the space and consequently built in opportunities for crime."(Brantingham). Many different types of indicators can be found in all types of neighborhoods, but there is a strong case of urban settings having a key influence of crime and disorder in the course of daily life. In American society, crimes range from petty theft to property damage to drug activity to homicide. These crimes are committed in everyday life but are significantly impacted by the occurrence of a natural disaster. Through examining urban crime trends one can better understand the effects a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina can have on the local crime rate and social disorder.

Urban areas are subject to a large amount of crime. The population demographics tend to be people of lower socioeconomic status. Crime typically occurs in the poorer neighborhoods, supporting the idea that poverty causes crime. These areas typically have "hot spots" for crime where the majority of crime takes place. Because criminal offenders are usually among the lower class, crime takes place in the urban areas in which they live. While it is known that members of the lower socioeconomic class are offenders of crime, the question remains--what drives people to commit these crimes?

There are many forces drive criminal activity. Some commit crimes because they are in desperate need, while others do so as a form of rebellion. In a review of crime trends, it is believed that the structure of daily activities increases criminal opportunities. Robberies alone, are a crime that normally take place at night but now in more suburban areas where parents are making the commute to work and dropping children off at school for the day, this is leaving houses very vulnerable for robbing. "The obligatory activity patterns of daily life--the commute to work, shopping, recreation, and socializing--moves people around and concentrates activity in one part of the city during one part of the day and in other parts of the city at other times"(Brantingham). But this same robbery would never be able to happen in urban areas in the broad day light, it would more likely be an opportunity after dusk and everyone is home and the streets are more empty, leaving it more apt to make and attempt on a house or place to rob. Researchers defined three key elements in the occurrence of crime as: motivated offenders, suitable target and the absence of capable guardians against violation (Cohen et al 1979, 589). All of these elements can be attributed to the increase in crime following Hurricane Katrina.

On August 29, 2005, the most destructive hurricane to ever hit the US made landfall--Hurricane Katrina. Striking the Gulf region as a category 4 hurricane, Hurricane Katrina caused severe damage to Louisiana and Mississippi. New Orleans, Louisiana suffered the greatest damages, flooding nearly 80%. 204,000 homes endured severe damages, with 180,000 homes under water during the flood (Caruso 2005). Hurricane winds of up to one hundred and twenty five miles per hour (NOAA) and left eighty one billion dollars worth of damage and killed over 1,500 people. There were many affects of the outcome of Hurricane Katrina, leaving many people who were left to commit crimes such as carjacking, looting stores, murders, thefts and rapes. These crimes did not only happen in New Orleans but also in the surrounding states that were also affected by the natural disaster. One article states "New Orleans will forever exist as two cities: the one that existed before that date, and the one after" ( Ranked as the "costliest" and one of the five deadliest hurricanes, Katrina left the Gulf region in massive ruins. Despite government warnings people remained in the city limits; some because they simply chose not to leave and others because they did not have the means or resources to evacuate. Those who stayed were trapped, many of which were from lower income situations. In the wake of destruction, Katrina left thousands of residents homeless and jobless. Over 800,000 citizens were forced from their homes. These types of conditions provide many opportunities for crime to take place.

There are many different types of crimes that are being committed in urban cities, but those that are looked at by the media are incidents involving serial killers, rioters, bank robberies, car jacking, drive-by shootings and human smuggling. With that said, the images the media gives about urban crime patterns is very much so incorrect. "The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, show that violent crimes account for only about one-either of the index crimes reported to police. The other seven-eighths are property crimes."(Brantingham) Crime and disorder that is found in urban cities is usually more routine and corrosive that the media image suggests. Many acts of minor violence, property damages and conditions of disorder and lack of respect that never gain attention from the news make up the real criminal components of urban life; assaults and property crime take place much more frequently than violent crimes. "Crime tends to occur with greater frequency in poorer neighborhoods of all cities, but it can occur anywhere. Crime is channeled by a city's routine social activity patterns and the structure of its transport network into some urban settings and away from others"(Brantingham). Most criminal offenses occur in places that have more opportunity such as shopping plazas, entertainment areas, major transit stops, and neighborhoods populated by more or less well off, young, single adults.

While crime is part of everyday life, crimes rates tend to increase following disasters. There was more room for criminal offenses in New Orleans, post Katrina due to the simple fact that they lacked the equipment to catch and punish those who are committing these crimes. A Texas University Evaluation of the impact of Hurricane Katrina found that in the time prior to the hurricane, crime in New Orleans was increasing and the population was decreasing. Immediately following the storm, the city of New Orleans was in a state of chaos. Generally speaking, industrialized countries endure more severe economic losses from natural disasters. The evaluation divides a natural disaster into four stages: mitigation, preparation, emergency and reconstruction.



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