Everyone agrees that New Orleans is a challenging city to police even on a good day, given a murder rate that is ten times the national average. But the city's notorious corruption and cronyism has never built a police force that inspired confidence. Sadly, as I report in a posting at OpinionJournal.com, Hurricane Katrina has destroyed whatever credibility the force did have.
About 500 police officers -- nearly a third of the force -- aren't showing up in the daily lineup. Most have simply quit or walked off the job. Two officers, including the department's spokesman, committed suicide. All this helps explain why the department didn't hold its first briefing for the media until yesterday, a week after the hurricane hit.
Those officers who remain on the job are being pulled off duty as National Guard units take over law enforcement in the city. Incredibly, the city asked the Federal Emergency Management Administration if it would pay to send its officers on free five-day vacations to Las Vegas or Atlanta. When it refused, the city announced it would foot the bill. City officials weren't so free with money before the storm. Officer Brian French says he can't figure out why he and his fellow officers weren't ordered to report for special duty before the storm. "They told us not to come in on Sunday, the day of the storm, to come in the next day to save money on their budget," he told the New York Times.
I am certainly sympathetic to the tough job police officers face every day. But my brother, a veteran of 30 years in law enforcement with the Tucson, Arizona police department, says it is generally known that New Orleans' police force has long been one of the most dysfunctional in the country. Last week, its failure to do its job cost lives.
As plans to rebuild New Orleans are made, a top priority must be to remake the city's police force from top to bottom. Perhaps some veterans of New York City's police force, which survived 9/11 without being offered Las Vegas vacations, should be brought in as consultants.