New Orleans police work on despite losing homes, desertions

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS- Danny McMullen and the other detectives on the cold-case squad started work at 6:30 a.m. the day before Hurricane Katrina smashed into their city more than two weeks ago. Their work days have yet to end.

First, there was keeping order in the Louisiana Superdome. Then at the convention center. Their next task is to canvass the dark, flooded corridors of Charity Hospital to ensure no one is lurking inside.

"Man, I'm going to need intense therapy after I get through with this," said McMullen, who lost his house, car and everything else in the storm.

New Orleans police are used to long hours and big events. They handle the million-plus crowd at Mardi Gras and are unfazed by Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Final Fours, political conventions and the everyday throng of tourists - many of whom come to New Orleans and immediately cast caution aside.

But before Katrina, there was always a bed at home and a day off on the horizon after the revelers ran out of beads. Not so with Katrina: Police Chief Eddie Compass believes more than 80 percent of his 1,740 officers lost their homes to the storm.

"I don't worry, that's just stuff," said Anthony Polidare, who graduated from the police academy just before Katrina hit. "Almost all of us lost our houses.

"The ones I feel sorry for are the guys who didn't know what happened to their families," Polidare said. "They kept doing their jobs, but they were just shells."

Not every police officer kept working.

Capt. Marlon Defillo said about 1,350 officers are still on the job. About 100 were on pre-storm leave for health or personal reasons, leaving about 300 officers who apparently either died, abandoned their posts or disappeared for some other reason.

They have not been accounted for since the storm hit.

"We're working in totally new areas now," said police spokesman Gary Flot. "We're victims and we're still police officers."

Those who stayed have come together. At the home of Lt. David and Sgt. Becky Benelli, where the electricity is back on, about 20 fellow officers have moved in.

"I don't even have a loose shingle," David Benelli said. "There are people on this force who went to work on Monday morning and at the end of the day didn't have anything but what they were wearing."

There is little sympathy among officers who stayed for those who abandoned their posts.

"I don't know all the circumstances, maybe they had family that needed them," David Benelli said. "I can't judge those people. ... But the ones who snuck off when it got bad are just cowards."

With the arrival of more troops and emergency personnel, police for the most part now work 12-hour shifts - down from 16- to 20-hour days, Compass said. The force is based at the foot of Canal Street, near a cruise ship where they can take a shower and use a flush toilet.

"They need that and they need a place they can unwind, maybe watch a movie, just relax," Defillo said.

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