Police crackdown on crooks targeting hurricane refugees

Mid-South criminals are cashing in on Katrina's wrath.

Thousands of evacuees are seeking refuge in Memphis hotels only to be victimized once again in the parking lot.

"They took our gas. They took our gas out of the gas tanks. Broke out our windows. Took our steering columns and left them. Took our stereos. We have nothing," said evacuee Samantha Johnson.  And she's not alone.  Memphis Police say dozens of Katrina evacuees have been robbed or ripped-off since setting up shop in the Bluff City.

"They had to leave at the drop of a hat and pack as much as they could in their cars and they had to come up here. That in and of itself is a traumatic experience and you add to that traumatic experience some unscrupulous criminals in this city...we want to take a proactive approach to this," said MPD Sgt. Vince Higgins.

An approach to save evacuees like Samantha Johnson.

"We don't have any place to live anymore. Our houses are underwater. We don't have anything but the clothes on our back," said Johnson.

"We're developing an operation as we speak, identifying the areas where these crimes are occuring and to pinpoint any possible suspects we might have," said Higgins.

That operation includes working with hotel managers and staff to spot trouble-makers...and beefing up security.

"Air units, uniform patrol, dog units -- we'll be in the areas of these shopping centers and hotels to try to make things a little safer," said Higgins.

For people like Samantha Johnson -- and all of us.

Memphis Police are expected to make a formal announcement Thursday concerning efforts to crack down on crimes against evacuees.

Meantime, Samantha Johnson and her family are in a church shelter in Southaven.

They've received a lot of help from our generous viewers who saw their story.