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New Orleans To Revive Kids' Curfew

City officials are hurrying to resurrect a nighttime curfew to keep children off the streets, after five teenagers were killed last weekend.

Curfew enforcement went by the wayside after Hurricane Katrina, but officials say the problem is now urgent as summer starts and more people return to the city.

On Wednesday, work was under way to get one piece of the curfew program going: a holding center for violators. The center — a partitioned room where violators wait for parents or social workers — was, like so much else, flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

Mayor Ray Nagin's predecessor, Marc Morial, was credited with using a curfew in the mid-1990s to fight a rise in crime.

"It has not actively been enforced because the juvenile justice system has been down and there is nowhere to house these juveniles," said Sgt. Carlton Lewis, a police spokesman.

The move comes as National Guard troops patrol streets and help the depleted New Orleans Police Department fight a wave of crime.

After last weekend's killings, Gov. Kathleen Blanco urged the city to keep children off the streets. That has become a central piece of the plan to squash crime before it spoils the city's recovery.

The city attorney's office Wednesday was laying out the details of the curfew, a city spokesman said.

The curfew will probably start at 11 p.m. and go until dawn, said William Short, a chief sheriff's deputy for Orleans Parish.

David Utter, who heads the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, said the move to install a curfew after the weekend shootings was misguided.

"Rushing to the blame-the-victim mentality seems to have little basis in the facts," he said, pointing out that only one of the five victims was, under the law, a juvenile at age 16.

Instead, the city should channel its resources into restoring youth programs, schools and playgrounds destroyed by Katrina, he said.

Latasha Smith, 21, agreed. She is being trained at a restaurant that employs at-risk young people in Central City, the neighborhood where the weekend shootings occurred.

"Right now they don't have any programs, facilities for these kids," Smith said. A basketball court she used to play on now contains trailers housing displaced families.

Officials say they plan to restore more parks and playgrounds this summer.

At a news conference Monday, Nagin and the City Council urged quick action in opening schools after hours, starting nighttime basketball programs and doing more to fight poverty.