NEW ORLEANS – Amid the chaos that ensued as Hurricane Katrina (search) struck the city, dozens of police officers and civilian employees left their posts unexpectedly and were not heard from again. On Friday, the New Orleans Police Department (search) fired 51 of them — 45 officers and six civilian workers — for abandonment.
"They either left before the hurricane or 10 to 12 days after the storm and we have never heard from them," acting police superintendent Warren Riley (search) said.
Police were unable to account for 240 officers on the 1,450-member force following Katrina. The force has been investigating them to see if they left their posts during the storm.
The mass firing was the first action taken against any of the missing officers. Another 15 officers resigned when placed under investigation for abandonment.
"This isn't representative of our department," Riley said. "We had a lot of heroes that stepped up after the storm."
Another 45 officers have resigned from the force since the Aug. 29 storm. The resignations were for personal reasons ranging from relocation to new employment, Riley said.
The officers fired Friday won't have the right to appeal, Riley said. "The regulation says that if you leave the job for a period of 14 days without communication you can be terminated," Riley said.
Lt. David Benelli, president of the New Orleans police union, said he had no sympathy for those who abandoned their post. "The worst thing you can call a police officer is a deserter," Benelli said.
He said none of the officers had contacted the union about fighting the dismissals.
Two former New Orleans police officers and a New Orleans firefighter were rejected for jobs in the Dallas Police Department (search) because of allegations they deserted their jobs during Hurricane Katrina.
Dallas Deputy Chief Floyd Simpson said there were approximately seven to 10 recent applicants for his department from New Orleans' police or fire departments. Three were rejected because of the desertion allegations and two were moving through the process after it was determined that they left the police department under proper circumstances. He did not provide the status of the others.
"When you are ready and take an oath of office and you do not fulfill that office, that's an issue for us and it should be an issue for law enforcement in general," Simpson said.
Hearings for New Orleans officers who remain under investigation for abandonment will begin Nov. 8, Riley said.
"The hearings will take us four to six months to do," he said. "Decisions on what to do with those officers based on the hearings will be made within 48 hours."
Riley said the decisions will be made weekly as the hearings are complete.
The department is also investigating the beating of a man during his arrest and the assault on an Associated Press television producer.
"It's still ongoing, but we hope to have a conclusion within a few weeks," Riley said.