The beleaguered New Orleans Police Department on Friday fired 45 officers and six civilian employees accused of abandoning their posts while the city was descending into violent chaos in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The firings, along with the resignations of another 15 officers, added to the woes of a department already reeling from the resignation of its chief and the scandals unleashed by videos of officers looting stores during the storm and the recent beating of a retired schoolteacher during an arrest in the French Quarter.
More firings could be in the offing, because 228 officers are still under investigation for failing to report to duty during the height of the crisis, said Capt. Marlon Defillo, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman. A tribunal composed of civilians and high-ranking police officials, which has yet to be empaneled, will hear the cases of officers accused of abandoning the force.
The 51 department members fired Friday have not faced a tribunal because they are missing and have not reported to their superiors.
So far, 21 New Orleans police officers suspected of going AWOL have been exonerated, in most instances, because they were "stranded on rooftops, stranded in homes or could not make it to their posts," Defillo said.
Some of the New Orleans police officers accused of abandoning their posts have reportedly tried to get work at law enforcement agencies in Texas and Georgia, but officials there have refused to take them. The firings leave New Orleans with a depleted police force, down to 1,448 officers from its pre-hurricane level of 1,700. But with most of the population evacuated to other states, and only an estimated 70,000 residents and contract workers spending the night in the city, Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) has boasted that New Orleans may be the safest major city in the United States.
The police department is now led by acting Superintendent Warren Riley, appointed by Nagin after Eddie Compass -- whose televised interviews told of unspeakable hours in the days after the storm -- resigned. Many of the claims made by Nagin and Compass about mass rapes and murders at the Louisiana Superdome and elsewhere have been challenged.
The department will also be faced with more questions about its procedures in the case of a 64-year-old black, retired schoolteacher who was beaten by three white police officers, whose attorneys have said they were following proper procedures. Two New Orleans police officers committed suicide shortly after Katrina struck, and much of the force was left homeless by the destruction wrought by the storm. For now, nearly all of the department lives together, bunking on the Mississippi River in a red-white-and-blue cruise ship.
Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.