Most of us—Thank God—will never experience anything as emotionally, physically, and spiritually shattering as Hurricane Katrina. Short of an atomic bomb detonation or a biological attack, Katrina is as bad as it gets.
And unless we were there, unless we smelled the decomposing corpses, felt the oily grime of the flood waters on our skin, braved the long, dark nights in the New Orleans Convention Center, or sifted through the smashed debris that was once our coastal Mississippi neighborhoods, then we don’t know anything about Katrina.
Two days after Katrina and the subsequent flood wrecked southern Louisiana, a newspaper reporter friend of mine called. He said, “I’m sure you’re going to cover the NOPD bugout in Police.”
I stopped him right there. “The New Orleans Police Department did not run away.” And I told him that in no uncertain terms.
Unfortunately, however, that’s the impression that many civilians, perhaps even many cops, have about the New Orleans PD. But it isn’t true.
While statistics show that the New Orleans PD lost about a third of its force during and after Hurricane Katrina, no definitive statement could be made about these officers at presstime.
Yes, it’s known for sure that some deserted their city in its dark hour. However, many others may have lost their lives in the storm and flood, and others may have evacuated their families and couldn’t get back into the city.
Regardless of what happened to these officers, only one group of people on this earth has earned the right to condemn or exonerate them. I’ll give you a hint; it’s not smartass reporters. Only the New Orleans cops who stayed on the job can sit in judgment on their unfaithful colleagues.
And let’s state for the record and for all to hear that more than 1,000 New Orleans PD officers did not desert their dying city. These brave men and women fought both the worst that nature could throw at them and the worst instincts of some of the nastiest people alive.
Here’s what just about every first-hand account says about the courage of the New Orleans PD officers who stood their ground.
Many of them were on duty five days straight without sleep. They had little or no food. And little or no drinkable water. Their cars were drowned. So they patrolled on foot, and they had no showers to wash the fetid stew of lake water, raw sewage, and petrochemicals that ran like rivers through the streets of the city off of their skin.
They didn’t even have the symbols of their authority. Unless they were wearing their uniforms at the time the second levee broke on Aug. 30, they patrolled without uniforms and without body armor. Think about that one for a moment. What contemporary American patrol officer wouldn’t feel like he or she was working naked without the comforting discomfort of a ballistic vest?
These New Orleans officers who stayed to fight for their city upheld the best traditions of American law enforcement. They rescued people from flooded homes, they did their best to keep the peace, and they shot it out with the bad guys.
No, the New Orleans PD did not bug out. They stood their ground. They fought back. And they saved lives.
As for those guys who fled the city, they have some explaining to do. Not to me. Not to the press. Not to the city council. But to their brothers and sisters who honored their badges, upheld their oaths, and did the job.