New Orleans Police Department fires 51 employees for abandoning posts

Officers, civilians terminated for actions during, after Katrina


NEW ORLEANS -- Fifty-one members of the New Orleans Police Department were fired yesterday for ditching their duties before or after Hurricane Katrina struck the city, police officials said.

Capt. Marlon Defillo, police spokesman, said the employees, 45 officers and six civilian personnel, were terminated because they were "AWOL," absent without leave.

"They were terminated on the basis that they have not shown up for work," Defillo said, adding that under normal circumstances Police Department policies allow staff 14 days to notify officials of their absence or risk losing their job and forfeiting their right to appeal a dismissal.

The department said 15 other officers resigned while their whereabouts during the storm was being investigated and another 45 left the department because they relocated to other cities or found other work.

The terminations will reduce the force to 1,448 members, Defillo said.

An additional 228 officers were under review to see if they walked off the job during the storm or were unable to undertake their duties because of circumstances beyond their control.

Floodwaters ravaged the city when levees failed after Hurricane Katrina's pummeling of New Orleans on Aug. 29.

"A large number of officers were stranded on rooftops, displaced, or unable to make contact due to loss of communication," the police spokesman said, adding that the number of officers facing disciplinary action would likely decrease for that reason.

Hearings for the officers who remained under investigation for forsaking their posts are expected to begin Nov. 8 and last four to six months, police officials said.

Lt. David Benelli, president of the New Orleans police union, said that by choosing to desert their posts and not fulfill the oath they took to serve and protect, the officers had in essence fired themselves.

"These people made up their own minds to leave the job, so the department just made a personnel move and dropped them from their rolls," Benelli said.

"If these people do not want to be here, we don't need them," he added.

The Police Department has been criticized for failing to control a spate of lawlessness that erupted during the flooding, and some officers are being investigated on charges of looting.

The action against the officers also comes at a time when three white officers are being investigated for the beating of a black man during a arrest this month in the city's French Quarter, and the assault of a television news producer who witnessed the beating.

Benelli said it was unfortunate that the spotlight had been cast on the negative actions of a few, rather than on the courage of the hundreds of officers who braved the storm "and held this city together by the skin of their teeth, without any resources."

Ann M. Simmons writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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