[StBernard] Police: FEMA trailer parks a criminal 'haven'

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Jan 9 23:09:32 EST 2007

NEW ORLEANS - The amorphous trailer sites FEMA set up around Louisiana to
house hurricane victims have turned into hot spots for drug dealers,
prostitutes and even murderers, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Thousands of people left homeless by hurricanes Katrina and Rita call the
trailers home as they await repairs or rebuilding of their homes.

But police also say the trailer cities and stand-alone trailers throughout
the hurricane-hit region are places where profiteers and criminals can live
at the fringes of society and go unchecked by authorities.

In response to the problem, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, on
Tuesday called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to share more
information on trailer residents with police, especially in New Orleans
where a wave of murders has threatened to further slow the city's recovery
from Hurricane Katrina.

The trailer sites have been a source of controversy since they were
installed after Katrina. Many communities cringed at the prospect of trailer
parks in their backyard, and politicians bickered over where to place them.
In recent months, at least three murders have taken place at trailers in New
Orleans, the most recent one on New Year's Eve.

There are 22 FEMA sites in the New Orleans area, and 47,000 people living in
trailers. Most trailers are outside homes, but about 3,000 people live on
large sites in New Orleans, FEMA said. There is no deadline for disbanding
the sites.

In the eyes of law enforcement officers, the trailer sites have become
modern-day versions of the Depression era's squatters' towns known as

"It seems like these parks become a haven for criminal activity. They can
hide, they can act more stealth-like," said John Doran, chief of detectives
in St. Bernard Parish in suburban New Orleans.

FEMA did not immediately respond to questions about its privacy policies,
crime statistics at trailer sites, how security is managed at the sites or
how information on residents is managed. Some police officials say FEMA has
not been cooperative even as the crime wave spread from the city to the

Doran said the sites have become concentrations of transients where
practicing old fashion community policing is futile. "It's not a
neighborhood really. People stay to themselves. It's a brave new world out
Initially, FEMA's private security guards checked who entered the sites, but
screening has become lax, Doran said.
The past few days illuminated some of the problems.
On Friday, deputies arrested a 17-year-old woman who allegedly was selling
drugs and sex at a trailer site in Chalmette, Doran said. And on Monday,
deputies stopped a man driving at breakneck speed out of another trailer
site, and discovered a Maryland warrant was out for his arrest on a murder
charge, he said.

"You can see what kind of people we're dealing with," he said.

He said deputies have made more than 100 drug arrests at the parish's three
trailer sites in the past three months.

St. Bernard Sheriff Jack Stephens complained that FEMA has been very
tightlipped about who is living at the sites and that, he said, has hindered
police work. "We're largely still in the dark," the sheriff said. "They
won't share information."

Maj. John Marie with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office, a somnambulant
rural area south of New Orleans, said criminals are attracted to the
encampments of hurricane victims.

"A drug dealer almost says, 'Look it's a confined space, there are a lot of
people in a small area.' It's almost like a salesman saying, 'Look I have a
great base to sell from,'" Marie said.

At one 500-trailer site in the Plaquemines community of Diamond deputies
responded to 242 calls in the past year, Marie said.

"You have people who never wanted to end up in a trailer park. Some of them
have nothing to do, others have criminal backgrounds, others are lazy, and
some are good folk," said Doug Moreau, the district attorney for Baton
Rouge, a city that has dealt with numerous problems at FEMA trailer sites.
"You end up with a pretty dysfunctional community, and as time goes on
you're going to have inevitable problems."

Arthur Lawson, the police chief of Gretna, a New Orleans suburb, said the
problems extend to single trailers.
"I don't think FEMA has any clue about what's going on with these trailers,"
Lawson said.

In several cases, homeowners who finished renovation work on their homes
rented their trailers to unsavory individuals, the chief said.

"We had a rash of burglaries, and it turned out the burglar had moved into
the neighborhood because the person who was in the trailer had moved back
into his house and rented the trailer out to the burglar," Lawson said.

He said Gretna is doing an inventory of the trailers left in the suburb, and
it is requiring people to certify that they need the trailer while they

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