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Houston Cracks Down on Criminals Among Katrina Evacuees


The city of Houston gained worldwide recognition for taking in tens of thousands of evacuees from Louisiana fleeing Hurricane Katrina three months ago, but among the displaced were some unwelcome guests, violent criminals. Local, state and federal authorities are making progress in getting the criminal element off the streets.

The Houston Police Department, backed by state and federal law enforcement agencies, is moving against violent criminals and gang members, many of whom came here among evacuees fleeing Hurricane Katrina in early September. Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says these criminals from New Orleans and other areas of the neighboring state have had a negative impact on Houston.

"We are beginning to see more involvement in violent offenses by the evacuees who came here from Louisiana," said Mr. Hurtt.

The Houston Police Chief says some of the Louisiana criminals may have been swept up recently as part of an operation that started six months ago, with federal assistance, to target violent criminals.

"One way that we can stop repeat offenders is to make sure that they are not on the street and either in the county jail or state prison," he added.

There are around 100,000 evacuees from Louisiana still living in the Houston area and tens of thousands more in other Texas cities like Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. The vast majority of the evacuees have no criminal records and have committed no crimes here in Texas. But authorities have been concerned in particular by reports that hundreds of gang members from the New Orleans area intermingled with the evacuees and came to Texas. Before Katrina, New Orleans had one of the highest crime rates among major U.S. cities.

In a related development Monday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that 13 fugitives from justice in Louisiana have been apprehended in Texas in recent weeks. The 11 men and two women are all wanted for violent criminal acts. Three of them are wanted for murder.

Attorney General Abbott says information reluctantly provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helped in tracking down the fugitives. Most of them had applied for federal assistance following the disaster in September. FEMA initially opposed opening its records to law enforcement investigators, but Mr. Abbott says the agency relented after his office spent weeks demanding access to the files.

Texas officials are also working with authorities in Louisiana to track down dozens of convicted sex offenders who failed to register with authorities, as required under the terms of their parole release. One man with a sex offense record in Louisiana was arrested in Dallas recently on charges of molesting a child in that city.

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