While Colorado Springs rallied to help roughly 1,500 exhausted Hurricane Katrina evacuees, officials also were busy, conducting criminal record checks on hundreds of them.
As a result, two people were arrested and taken to the El Paso County jail -- one for a parole violation and the other for an undisclosed minor crime.
"I know this sounds kind of weird, but it was actually to benefit the evacuees," says Colorado Springs Deputy Fire Chief Steve Cox.
Cox is operations chief for the Pikes Peak Disaster Recovery Center, the city organization that has provided shelter and other resources to people landing in Colorado Springs in the six weeks since Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast.
At the behest of the Looking Glass Foundation, a Cañon City charitable group that provided transportation to hurricane victims, police here checked 380 people for prior and existing criminal violations.
Cox maintains the checks were meant to prevent people from coming to Colorado and then finding out that a landlord wouldn't rent an apartment to them because of their record.
Of the 380 who were checked, 11 had arrest warrants and 55 had criminal histories, says Colorado Springs police Lt. Mark Alumbaugh. However, in the end, only two people with outstanding warrants actually arrived in the Springs. The evacuees were notified before they boarded buses or planes that authorities here might be looking for them, Cox says.
The Disaster Recovery Center provided hundreds with hotel rooms and did not order checks on other evacuees, he adds.
Those whose records were checked generally are considered to be among the poorest of the poor, those who had nowhere else to turn for shelter and transportation when they connected with programs like the one run by Looking Glass.
More than 200 families recently have leased apartments in the area and could make the city their home.
Michel LaBoeuf, a 48-year-old from coastal Houma, La., just rented an apartment in the city and is seeking a job.
"I'm so impressed with everything they've done to help me," he says.
Yet, LaBoeuf is surprised that a humanitarian effort would include background checks. He was not part of the Looking Glass program and says he has no criminal history.
Officials in Houston say they are grateful that cities like Colorado Springs helped Katrina victims. That city didn't conduct background checks, says Sgt. Nate McDuell, a spokesman for Houston police.
"The primary focus of our operation was to help people," he says.
-- Michael de Yoanna
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