New Orleans Fires 60 Police Officers

The city has fired 60 police officers and suspended more than 25 others who didn't show up for duty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city's police chief said Thursday as officials worked their way through a long list of disciplinary hearings.

Most of the fired officers, 51 of them, were let go before the hearings began, Police Chief Warren Riley said.

The 228 officers now involved in the disciplinary hearings left New Orleans without permission in the days after the hurricane hit, the chief told The Associated Press in an interview.

"They did return. But they left without permission, and at a critical time like this, it's totally unacceptable," Riley said.

The hurricane hit on Aug. 29, leaving much of the city under water and in chaos. Looters broke into stores and homes, there were reports of shootings in the streets, and there were assaults inside the Superdome, where thousands of residents who were unable to evacuate rode out the storm.

Some of New Orleans' police officers were stranded in the flooding and unable to check in with their commanders, but others were accused of adding to the chaos.

For Riley, sworn in as police chief Nov. 28 following the resignation of Eddie Compass, getting the questions out of the way and scrubbing the department's image has become a priority.

He said officials are now about one-fifth of the way through the 228 disciplinary hearings, with 42 completed.

So far, two officers listed as AWOL have been exonerated, Riley said.

"We've had nine people that have been terminated, one captain resigned under investigation, one sergeant was demoted, one sergeant received a 40-day suspension, two officers were cleared, exonerated of any misconduct," Riley said. "The remaining officers of those 42 received anywhere from 30 to 95 days suspensions."

Officers missing for 14 days are being fired. Absences under 14 days result in a suspension, Riley said.

Riley defends the majority of his 1,500 officers, but he acknowledges that a handful of rogue cops had caused trouble and stirred uneasiness and mistrust in the public. The desertions, allegations of theft and looting, and the videotaped beating of a retired teacher by police in the French Quarter have tarnished the department's reputation nationally.

"It's my opinion that only 40 or 50 people, and hopefully some of them are gone, that really makes this department have a bad reputation," Riley said.

The FBI and federal drug enforcement agents will help train the department in behavior and leadership skills starting in January, Riley said.

In the meantime he hopes to see some of the investigations of his officers wrapped up.

The desertion hearing should be done by the end of February, and the three officers arrested for beating the teacher will be tried Jan. 11.

An investigation also continues into a shooting five days after the hurricane in which police confronted seven people on a bridge after workers in boats reported they had been fired on. Six people on the bridge were shot, two fatally.

The state attorney general's office and the police are also investigating vehicles from a dealership. Police say some were used for rescues and patrols after the department lost 300 vehicles to flooding. But one former officer faces federal charges after he was caught in Texas with one of the vehicles.