NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Plywood covering Terry Knister’s back door had been pulled off, his stained-glass window smashed. He feared a burglar and dialed 911.

Trouble was, no one was willing to help.

All he was given by the New Orleans police was an incident number for insurance purposes. No officers were dispatched.

Police say they can’t explain Knister’s experience early last week, but insist it was an exception. But as this devastated city repopulates, and the number of military and out-of-town law-enforcement agents drops, the challenge of dealing with crime grows.

“We just don’t have enough police officers to handle the calls we’re getting,” said New Orleans Councilman Jay Batt, who has received calls from more than 100 other residents with similar concerns.

Victims’ accounts vary. Some allege police refused to take reports, others say their calls were never answered.

“I would not say we’re at 100 percent. We’re still in the process of rebuilding our infrastructure,” said Capt. Marlon Defillo, a police spokesman. “But in terms of the department’s responsiveness to the community, we are functional.”

Tell that to Knister. The 49-year-old lawyer was told police would not be sent to his home.

“What about the bodies?” Knister said he asked the dispatcher, questioning what authorities would do if he or intruders were killed in a potential showdown. “They said, ‘Call back if that happens.”‘

The streets of New Orleans are patrolled now by a much-reduced force.

The National Guard – whose uniformed soldiers and Humvees were a daily fixture in the weeks immediately after Hurricane Katrina – now has 2,361 people in New Orleans, down from more than 6,000 after the storm struck Aug. 29, said a spokesman, Lt. Col. Pete Schneider.

Some see the absence of such patrols today as a sign of progress, but others say it increases the strain on the city’s already-fractured police force.

About 300 federal, state and out-of-state officers remain on the streets, Defillo said, as little as one-tenth the level after Katrina hit.

The city’s police force is said to number about 1,500, down about 200 officers from before the storm.

The active-duty military has 257 people in Louisiana, but all but a dozen are medical support personnel.

That’s in contrast to just under 20,000 active-duty personnel right after Katrina.

“There’s only so many hands that they have and so many cruisers and so many officers,” Batt said. “We don’t have a lot right now.”

Fearing a rise in lawlessness as residents returned home, the New Orleans police set up an anti-looting unit of 200 officers.

“You got people going home, with people seeing they got nothing and spotting a house that’s high and dry,” said Capt. Bruce Adams, who leads the unit. “It’s a sad situation. Illegal, nonetheless.”

Helen Cheneau returned to her Ninth Ward home this week.

The 62-year-old retired hotel maid knew her first floor would be ruined by floodwaters but expected her valuables upstairs to be safe.

Cheneau was wrong. Looters made off with her jewelry, TVs, a vacuum, a sewing machine and more – and even trashed the place. She’s been unable to get police on the phone to take a report.

“I just feel like I was being violated,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Several miles north, in Lakeview, Jackie Federico was in a similar situation.

An officer was unwilling to take her report, she said.

“He told me that they were not taking reports because it would be impossible to prove and that there was so much fraud going on,” said the 52-year-old dental hygienist. “It’s bad enough to get looted. But then to say that you may be lying?”

Defillo said the department was just beginning to process property losses, and residents should try again.

Police say they’re making 20 to 30 arrests a day now, down from more than 2,000 a week before Katrina.

The drop in the number of arrests, despite the drop in the city’s population, has put some residents at ease.

“I feel safer in the city now than I did pre-Hurricane Katrina,” said Jean Stickney, who recently returned home.


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