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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS John Hall was walking his dog outside his home on St. Phillip Street around 5:30 a.m. on May 8 when a young man walked past him and said something he couldn't understand.

Then, Hall felt a blow to the back of his head.

'My jaw was wired together for four weeks, and it took like six weeks before my ribs were back to almost normal,' Hall said.

The robber made off with nothing, but broke Hall's jaw and three of his ribs.

'I fell to the ground and he was going through my pockets saying 'Where's the money? Where's the money? And I didn't have any money, I was just out walking my dog,' said Hall.

Hall believes the crime is part of a larger problem in the area.

'You hear about it almost every week that somebody has been mugged,' said the longtime French Quarter homeowner.

'In truth there's been a real epidemic of crime that ranges from petty crime, thefts, to a lot of violent crime,' said Meg Lousteau, executive director of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents, and Associates.

And that's why dozens of French Quarter and Treme residents packed Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey's town hall meeting Wednesday night at the St. Jude Community Center on North Rampart Street.

It's part of a series of crime meetings Ramsey is holding in neighborhoods throughout her district, prompted by the deadly shooting on Bourbon Street earlier this month.

Many Wednesday wore blue and carried signs demanding better pay and conditions for police officers so they don't leave the force.

'When you have boots on the ground, crime goes down. We need more police officer,' said Marigny resident and Cops 8 volunteer Ken Caron.

The 8th District, which includes the French Quarter, has gone from more than 160 officers to less than 100 officers in the last three years, said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

Neighbors say they won't feel safe until the streets have more patrols.

'A while back we saw police going around all the time,' said Hall. 'They rode around the neighborhood and we haven't seen that.'

'We are getting the momentum, it's starting to catch and I think it's going to continue,' Serpas said.

Serpas told neighbors the city expects to hire 90 new police officers before the year is over, short of the mayor's goal of 150. So far, 27 officers are going through the only academy class so far this year, and the city expects to begin the second academy class next month.

Serpas says, in an effort to retain officers, hundreds have been given pay raises and promotions in the last few years. Plus, the city has started investing in new equipment, cars and infrastructure, Serpas said.

Meanwhile, neighbors like Hall say they feel safer now that state police are also patrolling the streets, but their stay is only temporary.

Ramsey said city officials continue to talk with state police about prolonging their stay.

Serpas said state police could help free up more NOPD officers if state regulations changed so they could patrol the interstate within city limits.

He also wants stricter penalties for those caught carrying illegal weapons. He said a criminal caught with an illegal weapon is three times more likely to be arrested for murder within a year and five times more likely to commit a violent crime.

Ramsey said she will prepare a report listing residents key concerns after the final meeting in Algiers next week, then work with Serpas to help address those concerns.

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