- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Ever since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, the performance of the New Orleans Police Department has been one of the most disturbing developments to watch. Although many in the undermanned 1,500-member force (by way of comparison, the District, a city of comparable size, has 3,700 persons on its police force) have indeed performed admirably and continued to risk their lives during the city’s hour of greatest need, the department’s overall performance has been marred by poor planning, officers who participated in looting and acts of apparent cowardice.

A Baton Rouge police officer said two New Orleans officers who had shed their uniforms were stopped on suspicion of driving a stolen squad car. Other officers complained that their colleagues had stopped coming to work, reducing manpower by 200 persons. In some instances, officers told their superiors they were leaving, while others simply stopped showing up for work. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau, said last week: “The real issue, particularly in New Orleans, is that no one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans.”

Corruption, rising homicide rates and myriad other problems have plagued the department in recent years. In 1994, the city homicide rate peaked at 421, before falling to 159 in 1999. The numbers jumped back up to 265 last year. By mid-August, 192 people had been murdered in New Orleans — 10 times the national average and far higher than the rate in Washington, Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. Police attribute the soaring murder rate to drug gangs. In many instances, authorities are unable to prosecute because witnesses are afraid of retaliation.

In short, New Orleans was becoming a very dangerous city before Hurricane Katrina struck, and its police force was faltering. Tragically, the breakdown in public order that followed the hurricane is not a great surprise.

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