NEW ORLEANS- The New Orleans police chief says 249 officers - nearly 15 percent of the force - could face a special tribunal because they left their posts without permission during Hurricane Katrina and the storm's chaotic aftermath.
Police Superintendent Eddie Compass plans to assemble a tribunal of four of his assistant chiefs to hear each case and sort the outright deserters from those with a legitimate reason for not showing up for work.
Lt. David Benelli, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, the union for rank-and-file officers, said true deserters should be fired.
"For those who left because of cowardice, they don't need to be here," Benelli told The Times-Picayune in Tuesday's edition. "If you're a deserter and you deserted your post for no other reason than you were scared, then you left the department and I don't see any need for you to come back."
But Benelli said he believes only a small fraction of the officers will wind up being deserters.
"We know there were people who flat-out deserted," he said. "But we also know there were officers who had to make critical decisions about what to do with their families.
At a news conference Sept. 5, Deputy Police Superintendent Warren Riley had said between 400 and 500 officers on the 1,600-member police force were unaccounted for.
Some lost their homes and some are looking for their families. "Some simply left because they said they could not deal with the catastropt