Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Broken Compass

The chief of the New Orleans police, Edwin Compass, has resigned following the disgraceful conduct of many of his officers during Hurricane Katrina:

As the city slipped into anarchy during the first few days after Katrina, the 1,700-member police department itself suffered a crisis. Many officers deserted their posts, and some were accused of joining in the looting that broke out. Two officers Compass described as friends committed suicide.


Chaos reigned in New Orleans as Katrina's floodwaters rose. Gunfire and other lawlessness broke out around the city. Rescue workers reported being shot at.

At the height of the Katrina chaos, Compass fed the image of lawlessness in the city by publicly repeating allegations that people were being beaten and babies raped at the convention center, where thousands of evacuees had taken shelter. The allegations have since proved largely unsubstantiated.


Earlier in the day Tuesday, the department said that about 250 police officers _ roughly 15 percent of the force _ could face discipline for leaving their posts without permission during Katrina and its aftermath.

Each case will be investigated to determine whether the officer was truly a deserter or had legitimate reasons to be absent, Riley said.

"Everything will be done on a case-by-case basis. The worst thing we could do is take disciplinary action against someone who was stranded in the storm or whose child is missing," Riley said.

Sally Forman, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said it is not clear whether the deserters can be fired. She said the city is still looking into the civil service regulations.

When Compass was put to the test, he and many of his men failed. Even if his force was hampered by breakdowns in communications and the local authorities' incompetence, there was no excuse for any of them to desert or become looters.

It's astonishing to think that any of the officers whose ran away like cowards or turned to looting could be allowed back in uniform as if nothing had happened.

But even if they are, the ones who stayed will close ranks against them, and make working with them so uncomfortable that they'll be forced to quit.

Compass sealed his fate with his hysterical claims of mass murder, rape and riot in the Superdome and Convention Center, claims that have now been disproven as exaggerated urban legends. His comments provoked public hysteria and may have indirectly contributed to the deaths of people who stayed to drown in their own homes rather than test the rumours of what was going on in the emergency shelters for themselves.

The contrast between the reactions of New Orleans and Houston police to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not go unnoticed.

He was called upon to lead, and his men were called upon to follow. Both failed. He had to go.

Source: Washington Post

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