NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Thousands of tourists will pour into New Orleans in the next two months, and residents say thousands of criminals _ unafraid because of a strapped police force _ will be waiting.

Several hundred people protested a lack of police protection by marching in the French Quarter on Thursday, just four days after a triple slaying in a restaurant there.

The killings capped a week in which 13 people were slain in a city that has one of the highest murder rates in the country.

``It's made people aware of just how rampant the crime really is,'' said Lonnie Baham, who works for a restaurant group that closed for the afternoon so workers could march. ``There's just no police around.''

The city has a 200-officer shortage, which some critics _ including Gov. Mike Foster _ blame on Mayor Marc Morial's refusal to drop a requirement that police officers live within the city if they want promotions.

The shortage will really hurt in January, when hundreds of thousands of football fans come for the Sugar Bowl and Super Bowl, and again in February during Mardi Gras.

``Customers, as well as employees have gotten mugged on the street,'' Baham said. ``A lot of these incidents aren't even reported, because most of the time, police don't even come out. And when they do, how much action do they take on it?''

The protesters, some carrying signs saying, ``It's the public safety stupid,'' and ``You dropped the ball _ now drop the attitude,'' walked from Jackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter's tourist district, to City Hall.

``This is not about anger. This is about making New Orleans a peaceful place,'' organizer Kathleen Horn told the group. ``We want to show we are for the police and for this city.''

Many marchers also attended a candlelight vigil in the French Quarter to honor crime victims. Off a balcony overlooking Jackson Square, a huge banner read: ``WARNING TOURISTS: The French Quarter is a HIGH CRIME AREA.''

``It is even worse where I live,'' said James Graham, who was pushing his 2-year-old son in a stroller. ``You don't see the police as much there, because there's no tourists there.''

The slayings Sunday, when more than 70,000 visitors were in town for the annual Bayou Classic football game, were among 327 so far this year. The total is down from 332 at this time a year ago.

Many of the protesters admitted that more police patrols probably could not have prevented the recent slayings. A new employee at a restaurant is accused of robbing and shooting three workers to death.

As for Mayor Morial, he has sent out letters to more than 600 clergy, asking them to call on their congregations to join crime-fighting programs. He also said he is trying to find ways to hire more police officers and pay them more.

The governor has suggested that the National Guard could help _ if Morial agrees to drop the requirement that police officers live in New Orleans.

Residents are tired of political arguments and want some action, restaurant owner Andrew Jaeger said.

``The only bickering I see is the political people,'' he said. ``They need to stop and get on the same page with the community.''