Katrina left flood of felons in Texas
DPS warns local police of Louisiana evacuees on parole or probation
08:44 AM CDT on Friday, April 14, 2006
By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – As many as 3,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Texas are on probation or parole in their home state but most are probably living under no form of supervision, and state officials are providing their names to local authorities because they could be suspects in new crimes.
In letters to many of the state's police chiefs this week, the Texas Department of Public Safety provides the names and criminal histories of the evacuees and urges local authorities to consult the list to "develop possible suspects for certain crime problems that have advanced since Hurricane Katrina."
Nearly 300 of those are listed in Dallas.
"It is a huge concern," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. "We are going to continue working with Louisiana to assist them to get these people back."
The evacuees should have reported their status as probationers and parolees to authorities, but most have not, according to police and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The evacuees could petition for a permanent transfer of their supervision to Texas.
Some cities – Houston, above all – have complained that evacuees caused their crime rates to spike. The city accepted 150,000 evacuees overall, and it has received $20 million from the U.S. Justice Department to pay police and fire expenses for its suddenly enlarged population.
The list is believed to be the state's first master list of evacuees who left behind their criminal histories in Louisiana, where the hurricane destroyed some evidence and criminal records. The DPS has not made public the names of the people on their lists or their crimes.
"Certainly we want the police chiefs to know there may be some potential problems, and they need to respond how they feel is appropriate," Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman, said Thursday.
The number of Louisiana evacuees on probation or parole could be closer to 1,500, said John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The number provided by the DPS was higher because some evacuees had multiple addresses in Texas, he said.
The DPS list was compiled by cross-checking Louisiana's probation and parole rolls against FEMA's database of federal relief recipients.
Texas has feuded with FEMA over the identities of Katrina evacuees. After FEMA refused to provide data that would help identify sex offenders and violent criminals, Gov. Rick Perry said the decision jeopardized the safety of Texans and some evacuees. FEMA is now cooperating with state authorities.
Lt. Rick Watson, a Dallas police spokesman, said his department has not received DPS' list, which says 299 offenders are living in Dallas. Lt. Watson said police officers would probably visit evacuees listed as sex offenders.
"If we confirm they are here, we are going to go contact them, tell them, 'You have to register with us, let's go,' " he said.
Lt. Watson said he was not sure what Dallas would do with offenders who are not on probation or parole for sex offenses, because police departments are not responsible for probation or parole services.
So far, Texas has formally accepted about 151 probationers and 191 parolees from Louisiana, authorities said.
"If they have not contacted Louisiana by this time, under all normal ways of looking at community corrections, they would be an absconder," said Bryan Collier, director of the parole division of the Texas prison system.
But authorities were not willing to say Thursday what would happen to evacuees with criminal histories. The special circumstances of their flight to Texas – after a hurricane that prompted a mandatory evacuation – might dictate how the state deals with them.
Offenders who want to remain in Texas must go through an interstate compact that governs interstate parole and probation transfers. The offender must either reside in the state where he hopes to move, have family there, or be able to work there.
Kathie Winckler, Texas' commissioner for interstate compacts, said 804 people from Louisiana have identified themselves as probationers or parolees. She indicated it might be difficult to confirm the details of their supervision.
"Louisiana had quite a few parolees and probationers for whom the records were lost, literally washed away," Ms. Winckler said.
Mr. Collier said that some of the 804 people may have returned to Louisiana and that some living in Texas may have reported to their probation or parole officers in Louisiana.
"They have parole officers who lost their homes and lost everything," Ms. Walt said. "They have a number of caseworkers who, if you will, are still in the recovery process themselves."
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The Texas Department of Public Safety has identified almost 3,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees with criminal histories. Based on information from federal officials, the department is providing the information to local police agencies, which can contact the evacuees and decide how to deal with them. Here's a look at how many evacuees are thought to be in selected cities:
Addison: 2 Allen: 4 Arlington: 64 Austin: 92 Baytown: 41 Beaumont: 56 Bedford: 4 Carrollton: 14 Dallas: 299 Denton: 6 DeSoto: 7 Duncanville: 3 Euless: 4 Farmers Branch: 1 Forney: 1 Fort Worth: 63 Frisco: 5 Galveston: 25 Garland: 26 Grand Prairie: 20 Haltom City: 1 Houston: 1,415 Hurst: 2 Irving: 19 Lancaster: 7 Mansfield: 2 McKinney: 11 Mesquite: 12 North Richland Hills: 4 Richardson: 6 Rockwall: 1 Rowlett: 1 Sachse: 1 San Antonio: 149 Southlake: 2 The Colony: 3 Tyler: 19 Wylie: 3
SOURCE: Texas Department of Public Safety