- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Police Superintendent Eddie Compass resigned yesterday after four turbulent weeks in which the police force was wracked by desertions and disorganization in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

“Every man in a leadership position must know when it’s time to hand over the reins,” said Mr. Compass, who was on the city’s force for 26 years. “I’ll be going on in another direction that God has for me.”

As the city slipped into anarchy during the first few days after Katrina, the 1,700-member police department also suffered a crisis. Many officers deserted their posts, and some were accused of joining in the looting that erupted. Two officers whom Mr. Compass described as friends committed suicide.

Neither Mr. Compass nor Mayor C. Ray Nagin would say whether Mr. Compass was pressured to resign.

“It’s a sad day in the city of New Orleans when a hero makes a decision like this,” said Mr. Nagin, who appointed Mr. Compass in mid-2002. “He leaves the department in pretty good shape and with a significant amount of leadership.”

Mr. Nagin named Assistant Superintendent Warren Riley as acting superintendent.

Lt. David Benelli, president of the union for rank-and-file New Orleans officers, said he was shocked by the resignation and would not criticize Mr. Compass.

“I think the fact that we did not lose control of the city is a testament to his leadership,” he said.

In fact, chaos reigned in New Orleans as Katrina’s floodwaters rose. Gunfire and other lawlessness broke out across the city. Rescue workers reported coming under fire.

At the height of the Katrina chaos, Mr. Compass fed the image of lawlessness in the city by publicly repeating accusations that people were being beaten and babies raped at the convention center, where thousands of evacuees had taken shelter. The claims have proved largely unsubstantiated.

Earlier yesterday, the department said that about 250 police officers — roughly 15 percent of the force — face discipline for leaving their posts without permission during Katrina and its aftermath.

Each case will be investigated to determine whether the officer was truly a deserter or had legitimate reasons to be absent, Mr. Riley said.

“Everything will be done on a case-by-case basis. The worst thing we could do is take disciplinary action against someone who was stranded in the storm or whose child is missing,” Mr. Riley said.

Sally Forman, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said it is not clear whether the deserters can be fired. She said the city is looking into the civil service regulations.

The union chief said he thinks only a small fraction of the officers will be found to be deserters.

Before Katrina hit, Mr. Compass already had his hands full with an understaffed police department and a skyrocketing homicide rate, even as the rate dropped dramatically in other cities. New Orleans had 3.14 officers per 1,000 residents — less than half the rate in Washington, D.C.

Also yesterday, the state Health Department reported that Katrina’s death toll in Louisiana stood at 885, up from 841 on Monday.

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