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51 Police Fired in New Orleans

The officers were AWOL around the time Katrina hit. In addition, 228 are under review.

October 29, 2005|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

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

Police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said the employees, who included 45 officers and six civilian personnel, were terminated because they were absent without leave.

"They were terminated on the basis that they have not shown up for work," Defillo said, adding that under normal circumstances department policy allows staff 14 days to notify officials of their absence. Without such notification, they risk losing their job and forfeiting their right to appeal a dismissal.

The department said 15 other officers resigned from the force while their whereabouts during the storm were being investigated. Forty-five more left the department because they had 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 determine whether they had walked off the job during the storm, or whether circumstances beyond their control had prevented them from carrying out their duties.

Flood waters ravaged the city after levees failed as a result of Hurricane Katrina's damage to 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 probably decrease for this reason.

Hearings for the officers who remained under investigation for forsaking their posts were 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 New Orleans Police Department has been criticized for failing to control lawlessness that erupted during the flooding. 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 this month of a black man during an arrest 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 police who braved the storm "and held this city together by the skin of their teeth, without any resources."

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