New Orleans Police Chief Steps Down

Police Superintendent Eddie Compass (search) stepped down from his post four weeks after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city where he grew up and spent 26 years policing, saying he knew in his heart it was time to walk away.

His resignation follows the storm's turbulent aftermath, during which looters ransacked stores, evacuees pleaded for help, rescue workers came under fire and nearly 250 police officers left their posts.

"Every man in a leadership position must know when it's time to hand over the reins," he said at a news conference Tuesday. "I'll be going on in another direction that God has for me."

Compass, 47, gave no reason for leaving, saying only that he would be transitioning out of the job over the next six weeks. Neither he nor Mayor Ray Nagin (search) would say whether Compass had been pressured to leave his job.

Nagin, who appointed Compass chief in 2002, said it was a sad day for the city of New Orleans but that the departing chief "leaves the department in pretty good shape and with a significant amount of leadership."

The mayor has named Assistant Superintendent Warren Riley as acting superintendent.

On the streets of the Algiers (search) neighborhood, the first in Orleans Parish to be open to residents, some said Compass' resignation was a loss for the city.

"He was stretched beyond the limits of human endurance," said Ruth Marciante, pausing outside a Winn-Dixie supermarket. "Under the circumstances I think he did a superhuman job. I wish the next guy who takes that job a lot of luck."

But another Algiers resident, Donald De Bois Blanc, said he had complained to police about looting in the hurricane's aftermath, and gotten only shrugs in return.

"I don't think Compass did a terribly good job," he said. "The department was inept."

Lt. David Benelli, president of the union for rank-and-file New Orleans officers, said he was shocked by Compass' resignation.

"We've been through a horrendous time," Benelli said. "We've watched the city we love be destroyed. That is pressure you can't believe."

Benelli would not criticize Compass.

"You can talk about lack of organization but we have been through two hurricanes. There was no communications, problems everywhere," he said. "I think the fact that we did not lose control of the city is a testament to his leadership."

As the city slipped into anarchy during the first few days after Katrina, the 1,700-member police department 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.

Gunfire and other lawlessness broke out around the city. Rescue workers reported being shot at. Compass publicly repeated 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 confirmed 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.

Even before Katrina hit, Compass had his hands full with an understaffed police department and a skyrocketing murder rate. Before Katrina, New Orleans had 3.14 officers per 1,000 residents — less than half the ratio in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, the state Health Department reported that Katrina's death toll in Louisiana stood at 885, up from 841 on Friday.

It also was the second day of the official reopening of New Orleans, which had been pushed back last week when Hurricane Rita threatened. Nagin welcomed residents back to the Algiers neighborhood on Monday but imposed a curfew and warned of limited services.

Nagin also invited business owners in the central business district, the French Quarter and the Uptown section to inspect their property and clean up. But he gave no timetable for reopening those parts of the city to residents.