September 3, 2005

"A least 200 New Orleans police officers have walked away from their jobs and two have committed suicide."

Reports the NYT:
Some officers officially told their superiors they were leaving, police officials said. Others worked for a while and then stopped showing up. Still others, for reasons not always clear, never made it in after the storm.

From the Superintendent of Police Eddie Compass:
"If I put you out on the street and made you get into gun battles all day with no place to urinate and no place to defecate, I don't think you would be too happy either... Our vehicles can't get any gas. The water in the street is contaminated. My officers are walking around in wet shoes."

Would the NY Police have reacted to adversity that way? Think what they did after 9/11.

IN THE COMMENTS: I want to quote something I wrote in there:
Let me just say that I think my post is too harsh. I understand the pressure these people face. I doubt that I would do better. But I wish there were more stories of heroics after Katrina. I keep thinking of 9/11 because there were so many positive stories to counterweight the horrible then. 9/11 was a story of great evil and great good in human beings. Katrina is more of a story of ordinary things: nature and imperfect people.

47 comments:

Paul said...

I think it may come out some day that there was little direction or sense of purpose created. A police officer will generally perform well in a regimented atmosphere. Having them wander aimlessly on the streets instead of grouping them strategically and above all, informing them of what was expected, led to the poor performance - assuming they were dedicated officers to begin with. A big if, I understand but I'll bet there were still a majority of an honest force. I hope so. I think a command dysfunction will be found responsible.

k said...

How you do you "laissez les bontemps roulez" and be a cop? Maybe that is at the root of all this.

Sally said...

As a New Yorker, I loved Guilliani and I think New York was prepared for 9/11 precisely because of his leadership during ALL the years he was Mayor. From what I have heard, N.O. had terrible crime, terrible education and terrible leadership. I agree, it's no wonder the police are skipping out.

BTW Ann, you have done a fantastic job with your blog during Katrina - as an independent myself, I love that you are holding the Feds and the local government, the dems and the republicans or whomever, accountable. It sickens me that the Bush lovers excuse ANYTHING and EVERYTHING Bush, and the Bush haters hold Bush accountable for EVERYTHING. As I have worked for the government myself, I have witnessed how complex the reasons for corruption and ineptitude can be.

...Oh, and sorry for the caps. This is the first time ever that I ever felt the need for caps. I don't think it will happen again.

karabistr said...

Shame on y'all, there is no comparison. NYC cops acted heroically, but there were ten blocks affected and the rest of NY and NJ, including their homes and families, was safe; and the help was lined up and on the way quickly. This time, all city was drowning, and all executive branch enjoying their vacation.

mcg said...

Ann, with all due respect, will you just cut it out with these comparisons to 9/11 cops? Like I said before, flood 80% of NYC with water, make it impossible for significant amounts of relief to come in promptly, deprive them of food, water, or evne solid ground to stand on, have random thugs shooting at you, and then let's see what those New Yorkers would do.

Yes, New York's finest conducted themselves honorably and heroically. But this is just not the same situation. It's frankly worse, in many real and practical ways. And you're just beating a dead horse with this stuff. And for all of the people who are cracking under the increased pressure, there are countless others that you and I aren't hearing about who are conducting themselves with true honor and heroism.

Sloanasaurus said...

Isn't New Orleans well known for its underpaid and corrupt police?

Think back to the stories about Iraqi police fleeing in the face of an attack by fanatical terrorists. It makes our guys look like total cowards.

mcg said...

Oh, and let's add this to the mix: let's completely destroy the NYC cops' homes while we're at it, and put their families and loved ones in mortal danger.

vnjagvet said...

The story as reported in the NYT gives perspective on how absolutely devastating this disaster is.

Why should anyone take it as anything but news? Why should it be politicized? Those New Orleans policemen who performed their duties in the face of this awful event deserve our esteem for their courage. Those who did not deserve our sympathy and support unless their failure to do so was because of their cowardice or venality. Somehow I suspect that cowardice and venality were the exception. I, for one, and willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until the contrary is proven.

Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet)

Pat Patterson said...

I'm not sure I understand the idea that if a building falls on you its understandable to keep working, but if your feet get wet then you stop. If the NOPD are typical then very few live in the city where they work. Most will live in the suburbs away from the citizens that they are supposed to protect.

lindsey said...

The fact that two actually committed suicide seems to tell me that more is going on here than just commitment to the job.

Check this link. It's horrific. This whole situation is just a perfect storm of failure:

"Free Will quotes from a CNN story:

An angry Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans' emergency operations, watched the slow exodus from the Superdome and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency response was inadequate...."FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control," Ebbert said. "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."


As Free Will observes, this is a strange complaint:

Ebbert is the New Orleans head of Homeland Security, appointed by Mayor Nagin. He is supposed to be command and control, yet there he was complaining that no one was doing his job for him."

mcg said...

I'm not sure I understand the idea that if a building falls on you its understandable to keep working, but if your feet get wet then you stop.

Perhaps because those incredible heroes of New York City did not know the building was going to fall on them.

"Feet get wet?" You're not even trying to be serious.

mcg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sloanasaurus said...

Looking to the future (some are tired of Bush Bashing and blaming)...so we should speculate in different areas..

It will be an interesting process to see how New Orleans is "reconstituted." How many major cities actually get a second chance to be rebuilt? This is a once in a hundred year opportunity. If people are not allowed to live there for a year, think of all the corruption rings, drug areas, criminal gangs that will all be gone momentarily when the city starts running again. Think of all the dilapidated schools and buildings and neighborhoods that are going to be rebuilt.

Perhaps the real blunder of the great flood will be made a year from now.... if New Orleans becomes again the cestpool it once was.

mcg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mcg said...

I've never felt libearls were justified in calling us pro-Iraq types "chickenhakws". I must now concede that in the sake of fairness, I can understand where the urge to use that term comes from. Because I feel it welling up in me now in response to some of this garbage.

Sloanasaurus said...

Rehnquist is dead.

lindsey said...

My great fear about the rebuilding of New Orleans is that, instead of replacing the lost architecture with something that is authentically New Orleans, they stick in a bunch of boring and hideous glass and steel cubes that would ruin the city and its cultural heritage.

mcg said...

Rehnquist is dead.

God rest his weary soul.

Brando said...

FYI
Rehnquist is dead. RIP

Monty Loree said...

mcg: With all due respect,
What else do you compare Hurricane Katrina catastrophe to?

To help our psychology we try to compare catastrophes to other catastrophes.

In recent history 9/11 is probably the only comparable catastrophe that has gotten similar press.

What could be compared to New Orleans? I can't think of anything myself.

Also, CNN makes reference to New Orleans being 'perhaps' the worst catastrophe in US history. Which other disaster in US history comes anywhere close to this?

Elizabeth said...

A couple of notes:

New Orleans has a residency requirement; most NOPD live in the city. Some do live in the suburbs--which also flooded, and are in distress--due to "grandfather" clauses predating the residency rule.

mcg is right; 9/11 was contained, while this event is unimaginably vast.

Sloan, the entire department is not corrupt, despite what you assume is "well-known." The corruption peaked in the early 1990s, and since then there have been big changes. It is however understaffed (due to the residency requirement!) and underpaid, so yes, there are surely some corrupt cops. But the vast majority of NOPD spend day in and day out working hard to protect the city. It's certainly unfair to toss out that generalization.

I assume that like anyone in the city, the cops are shellshocked. It's becoming apparent that people at the heart of a catastrophe need help from outside to cope with it. The cops, the firefighters, they're all in two roles, as victims of the disaster, and as first-responders, and in this case with flooded vehicles and stations and without means of communication. What a nightmare.

Elizabeth said...

k--Let the good times roll? Are you kidding?

mcg said...

Monty, I have no problem comparing 9/11 with Katrina: Katrina is worse. By a large margin.

My problem is with the callous and disparaging comments directed towards people who may very well have run out of courage---but only in the face of more dire circumstances than any of us (God willing) will ever face, and in many ways more difficult than the situation the NYC heroes faced.

So can we please just cut the crap and focus on what we can do to help these folks? Those of us who are unable or unwilling to help physically, myself included, let's donate. And let's honor and revere those who are serving with their bodies. And let's show the folks who fled in the face of incredible personal destruction and hardship a little mercy.

Ann Althouse said...

Let me just say that I think my post is too harsh. I understand the pressure these people face. I doubt that I would do better. But I wish there were more stories of heroics after Katrina. I keep thinking of 9/11 because there were so many positive stories to counterweight the horrible then. 9/11 was a story of great evil and great good in human beings. Katrina is more of a story of ordinary things: nature and imperfect people.

Brendan said...

Isn't New Orleans well known for its underpaid and corrupt police?

Indeed they are. Steve Sailer relates the following:

For instance, after blacks took control of New Orleans, they required new police recruits to live in the city itself as a way to exclude white cops. Dean M. Shapiro writes for Court TV's "Crime Library":

"The department was being depleted of experienced officers and the numbers within the ranks were decreasing as crime stats were rising at an alarming rate… In order to beef up the rapidly dwindling numbers of NOPD, the department was forced to lower its acceptance standards. Recruits with criminal records, DWIs, unfavorable employment records and dishonorable discharges from the Armed Forces were allowed to enter the Police Academy, whereas they had previously been excluded… Their records were expunged and, on completion of their training, they were issued badges, guns and patrol cars and turned loose on the street… These new officers were expected to suddenly straighten up and begin enforcing the laws they had not-so-long-ago been breaking. They were expected to arrest those suspected of crimes, even if those accused had once been their street buddies. But this was an unrealistic expectation."

The state's Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan made all the right noises about evacuating residents without cars by school bus. But state and local authorities apparently failed to execute, as the famous picture of about 200 New Orleans school buses neatly lined up in a flooded parking lot shows.

It also should have been expected that a large fraction of New Orleans's lower class blacks would not evacuate before a disaster. Many are too poor to own a car, or too untrustworthy to get a ride with neighbors, or too shortsighted to worry.

Judging from their economic and educational statistics, New Orleans' blacks are not even an above-average group of African-Americans, such as you find in Atlanta or Seattle, but more like Miami's or Milwaukee's. About half are below the poverty line. With the national black average IQ around 85, New Orleans' mean black IQ would probably be in the lower 80s or upper 70s.

And of course nobody, despite what they may say, is all that much startled that, when the city's whites and more prosperous and/or foresightful blacks left, New Orleans quickly turned into its demographic analog, Haiti—where 2004's Tropical Storm Jeanne unleashed similar mayhem and chaos.

Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola of New Orleans who represents political prisoners in Haiti, stayed behind with his wife, who is a nurse. He noted:

"I had always hoped that Haiti would become more like New Orleans, but what's happened is New Orleans has become more like Haiti here recently."

PatCA said...

If the NYC cops were on their own for a week, they might do the same. NO had no plan for them, either. I agree with Elizabeth it was tragedy waiting to happen.

I saw footage of a police station renamed Fort Apache a small band of NOPD officers were trying to hold onto. Literally. Officers were sobbing and screaming on camera about those who never reported for duty and abandoned them and the city. Sniper/thugs were firing at them every time they showed their faces.

I've heard a couple sheriffs were killed, and Arthel Neville said her cousin saw a guy shoot a Guardsman. It was hell on earth.

Sally said...

I don't think Ann was questioning the policemen and women of N.O. but rather the leadership. She certainly did not call them cowards.

As far as looking back to NYC during 9/11 as a comparison, of course it is not the same, but it's worth analyzing why NYC was so successful during a catastrophe that could have been utter chaos. Things would have been far worse if this had happened pre-Guilliani, when crime and corruption were rampant. Let us not forget that people were running for their lives in lower Manhattan, all transportation was shut down in a city where most people do not drive, and the World Trade Center collapsed for God's sake! I remember wandering arround the streets wondering when the next attack would be - we didn't really know what was going to happen. Also, during the black out, New Yorker's behaved beautifully and really came together to help each other. Of course this is not the same as N.O.! But again, this also could have been chaos. Our city was unified during both events due to a history of great leadership which certainly inspires and unifies a people and can certainly be accountable for our unified and effective police force.

lindsey said...

This article from the Guardian asked a question that shocked me:

"Louisiana has a large poor white population, but where have they gone? Where are the white people? New Orleans sits in a basin and hasn't the same pattern of suburbs as other US cities, but it does have them. Ninety percent of the houses in the town of Slidell, just over the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, have been ruined. The west-lying towns, on higher ground, all have a river side, their backs to the levee. Where are those residents? They got out."

Why did poor whites get out but not poor blacks? All this time I've been assuming that the people there stayed because they were poor, but, if this article is correct, instead large numbers of white poor people were able to leave. What gives?

mcg said...

Let me just say that I think my post is too harsh.

Thank you, thank you! Genuinely.

I understand the pressure these people face. I doubt that I would do better.

Nor i.

But I wish there were more stories of heroics after Katrina. I keep thinking of 9/11 because there were so many positive stories to counterweight the horrible then.

Yes, yes! Agree 100%.

9/11 was a story of great evil and great good in human beings. Katrina is more of a story of ordinary things: nature and imperfect people.

This is such a relevant point. I have been struggling to put into words this important distinction. When 9/11 happened, we were fighting something. You don't fight acts of God; you find your way through them.

ploopusgirl said...

Brendan, my love, that was beautiful. Your article, which I really can't even tell if is an article in its entirety or if some of that offensive blabbering was your own, was all kinds of relevant for a paragraph or two, but then it degraded into a KKK meeting opening thoughts discussion. I love phrases like "above average African Americans." Even more so than that, though, is my love for anyone who would post that trash as being a justifiable or useful article. Brava!

Richard said...

Ann-- I'm surprised you say you doubt you'd be any better under the same pressure as the New Oeleans police. I think you would do better, as I suspect I would do better too. Once in a lifetime events where one has an opportunity to really have a impact are, for most folks, compellingly exhilerating, and shows them at their best. It's an environment some people look for their whole lives, an opportunity like that. I have never seen such a mediocre group of talent from the governor on down to the local cop as I see in New Orleans today. There is a disturbing sense of cluelessness, posturing and laziness among the group. This hurricane has exposed a very inept system run by some very inept people. Most of us could do better I think. Much better.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...

ploopusgirl--

Do you have any evidence to the contrary of what Brandon posted? I am not saying that it's necessarily true. But, what if the claims made in his post are correct? Do you have any evidence to suggest otherwise? Why is it reminiscent of the KKK to suggest that some city's black population has below the average black intelligence? Certainly, we do know that the black population in New Orleans was more likely to be on welfare or live in public housing than blacks in general. Again, Steve Sailer is a rather suspect source. But do you have concrete evidence to show that he is wrong?

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: Thanks for your confidence. In fact, I can't picture myself doing the job in the first place. I'd like to think that if it was the sort of thing I could do in the first place, I'd be brave under fire. I've never had to do anything like that, however, so it's just an idea. It's good to be courageous, bad to be cowardly.

Brendan said...

Angrygirl is stalking me again. I wonder if she has a crush? Anyhoo, everything written after the colon was Mr. Sailer's. Got a beef? Then take it to him. The topic up for discussion was the alleged cowardice of the NOPD, so Sailer's missive was quit on topic. Unlike Ploopy, Sailer has a functioning brain-stem and is curious about the world. Where did the recruits come from? How did they get their jobs? Are they competent? How intelligent are they? Good questions all, but since they offend Ploopy's liberal sensibilities, she lazily opts for character assassination. Ploopy's crowd is big on science, provided it prove that sexual orientation is innate and no substantive differences between the genders. As for intelligence? Why, only a racist could be interested in that (never mind the US military, which relies on intelligence tests all the time). BTW, Steve Sailer has twice been approvingly mentioned in two separate NY Times opinion columns in the last year alone. I'd say that makes him pretty mainstream/respectable. Ploopy, on the other hand, is a nothing. But that's old news.

Elizabeth said...

Ann--
But I wish there were more stories of heroics after Katrina. I keep thinking of 9/11 because there were so many positive stories to counterweight the horrible then.

Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but I think there are heroic stories, and they will be told. It isn't, after all, "after Katrina" yet. I think the story of the 20-year-old guy taking the wheel of a parked bus, loading it with everyone he could find and heading for Houston is a heroic story. I'm certain we'll hear stories of neighbors and strangers helping others in need as time passes and the tales get out.

There are far too many differences between Katrina and 9/11 to make valid comparisons.

Sloanasaurus said...

"...Also, CNN makes reference to New Orleans being 'perhaps' the worst catastrophe in US history. Which other disaster in US history comes anywhere close to this?..."

I think journalists would like to think so as they are covering it. Its only American to be the biggest and the best.

The largest natural disaster was probably the 1918 flu epidemic. In the month of October, 1918 alone more than 180,000 perished from the flu.

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth, I didn't say the entire department was corrupt. I said that N.O. is well known for having a lot of corruption problems. I think that is true.

bos0x said...

I love how one must be recognized by the New York Times to be taken seriously in the Althouse blog, Scrotumboy from the Internet. I'm sure whenever one of those dirty liberal journalists wants to write a piece about the blogosphere, "Brendan" is the name they include when they want to impress upon everyone the unsung geniuses in the comments. Or something.

Also, thanks so much for adding your insight to the debate, Scrotum dear. The state of Ploopusgirl's brain stem is fascinating to me, and the way you mention sexual orientation and gender differences is sooooo relevant because it is something Ploopusgirl mentions all the time. Speaking of lazy character assassination.

And your quote was exactly on topic...for about two paragraphs, as ploopusgirl said. The last five paragraphs have absolutely nothing to do with the NOPD, and there is a little bit of bizarre wording there, such as "New Orleans' blacks are not even an above average group of African-Americans". What is this "not even" qualifier supposed to mean? If you're African-American, you'd have to be above-average to be acceptable...? As for the would-be evacuees that are "too untrustworthy to get a ride with neighbors": I don't know what kind of hypergenerous suburban utopia Sailer lives in, but I can think of several reasons why my neighbors would not want to share transportation in an emergency that are not the fault of the needy party. Unless he has statistics on untrustworthiness in blacks by city too.

Yevgeny Vilensky: If you don't think the Steve Sailer source is necessarily true, why don't you start your fearless quest for concrete evidence there, instead of ploopusgirl?

Gerry said...

Ann,

If I may be so bold, I wrote a piece I am proud of on Friday about this very subject.

Link.

G

Mom said...

Ann, there's a story of heroism for you here. Read about 18-year-old Jabbor Gibson, who is a hero in my book even though he may face criminal charges for his actions. (Amazingly enough, even the article I have linked characterizes his action as "an extreme act of looting.") Here's an excerpt:

' "If it werent for him right there," he said, "we'd still be in New Orleans underwater. He got the bus for us."

Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson jumped aboard the bus as it sat abandoned on a street in New Orleans
and took control.

"I just took the bus and drove all the way here...seven hours straight,' Gibson admitted. "I hadn't ever drove a bus."

The teen packed it full of complete strangers and drove to Houston. He beat thousands of evacuees slated to arrive there. . . .

Authorities eventually allowed the renegade passengers inside the dome. But the 18-year-old who ensured their safety could find himself in a world of trouble for stealing the school bus.

"I dont care if I get blamed for it," Gibson said, "as long as I saved my people." '

Mom said...

Well, I see that my clumsy attempt to post a URL didn't work. Sorry! I'll cut and paste this time, but I'm guessing that probably won't work very well either. In any case, running the boy's name in "Google News" will lead you to at least one story about him.

http://www.newschannel5.tv/2005/9/1/4255/Taking-refuge-in-the-Astrodome

Stiles said...

The lesson here is that large disasters can overwhelm, almost completely, the ability to local government to respond when the police and other governmental employees are themselves victims. Good training, planning, and leadership will always help maintain effectiveness. If there is no cohesion to the local effort, it's human nature that some officers will evaluate whether they are making a difference and might be better off looking after themselves. But substantial outside help is needed fast for these "super-disasters," regardless of local effectiveness, to stave off despair.

There will be a lot for the emergency agencies to learn from this episode in their planning for a flu pandemic, massive terrorist strike, or another extreme national disaster.

BTW, I saw an article, I think it was on NOLA, Friday night that said there was attrition with the LA State Police too, not just the NOPD.

Stiles said...

And for those here suggesting that this is a problem unique to the New Orleans PD, please read the following story from Mississippi before casting more aspersions.

Key quote: "The city's police force, about 195 strong, has dwindled since the storm, with an undetermined number affected by the same devastation as the residents they're sworn to serve and protect."

This is a general problem with very massive disasters, not just a New Orleans problem. How to get more National Guard to disaster areas sooner will surely be examined in the aftermath.

Pat Patterson said...

Elizabeth-You are absolutely correct, I was operating on faulty information regarding residency requirements. As to NY didn't all the rescue services run into the buildings, not away. Don't we expect the police, fire and similar services to stay on the job, not to be excused for the duration because of the stress.

F15C said...

Comparisons are very useful to gain perspective on where things are headed. However, for me, 9/11 is a poor comparison in the large sense for Katrina. Response-wise a huge and critical differentiator is the fact that 9/11 came with essentially no warning - unlike Katrina. The type and physical scope of devastation, the ability to bring wheeled vehicles to the disaster scene, the ramifications for the world... 9/11 holds little basis for comparison, and I think it is a disservice - in the big sense - to both situations to make comparisons.

Beyond the micro level where the actions of one human being (or small group of human beings) actions can be compared to anothers in difficult situations, Hurricane Ivan or one of the other recent hurricane recovery efforts are really what should be used as comparison. Even the current recovery efforts in the other states hit by Katrina are better if the exercise is to better understand what happened and is happening in New Orleans.

Having said all that I see one very important micro level comparison between NO and NYC in their times of trial - the clear and obvious lack of leadership (call it the Guliani-factor) that is missing in NO and LA in general. And as someone who has been through levee break flood events here in Norther California, that leadership is essential to the effective response and recovery from such an event.

Regarding the NOPD, as they are *local* resources who are not immune to the effects of the disaster (they are not allowed to evacuate), there are severe limitations on what they as post-event resources can accomplish. This fact is probably covered in the city, parrish, and state DRPs (Disaster Response Plans), but whatever mitigating actions may exist in those plans do not seem to have been executed, or if they were, were not well devised.

Maintaining order is the most important single aspect of disaster recovery is accomplished (simplistically), by having the National Guard - which is under direct control of the Governor - standing off just outsided the area of devastation ready to deploy into that area as soon as physically possible to augment the NOPD and any other PDs in similar straits.

Also, as mentioned above, the inability to access devastated areas by wheeled vehicles is crucial. Helocopters are not tools of mass evacuation or mass delivery. Helos act at the micro level if you will, while trucks and buses in fleets act at the macro level. So if you can not get wheeled vehicles where they are needed either due to effects of the event or incompetence, people in large numbers are going to suffer.

Elizabeth said...

Pat,

I just don't think it's a fair comparison. The NYPD ran in, yes, during the hours of crisis. What happened afterwards? How many cops and firefighters experienced PTSD? How many have quit since then, or committed suicide, or are drinking themselves to death? In NOLA, there was no terrible few hours followed by moments of rest or even strategic organizing. The people these cops are helping, or watching die, are people they may know, maybe their own families. And they have no resources. The towers didn't fall on the police substations and fire stations, but the hurricane did. And not just hours but days of unceasing demands have followed. I can't spell it out any better--there is no, none, nada, zip to compare between the NYPD and NOPD here. The catastrophes are too different to judge these men and women by the same criteria.

Dave said...

I think everyone has forgotten. What happened in NY, 911, was unexpected. The police, firefighters, medical personel and everyone else acted right away!What happened with Katrina was forcast. People had time to prepare and leave, find shelter, move to higher ground. What I want to know is what were the previous conditions. Anyone want to answer honestly. Check the crime statistics. What was going on before. Everyone is shouting RACE. Why is that. Now everyone is waiting for their monthly checks?