BATON ROUGE, La.- Fed up with reports of mass desertion and criticism of tactics, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said Monday that his officers held their ground without food, water -- and even without ammunition in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Two police officers killed themselves. Another was shot in the head. Compass said had to be rescued from eight feet of water and others had gotten infections from walking through the murky soup of chemicals and pollutants in flooded areas of the city.
But Compass denied police officers deserted in droves, acknowledging some officers abandoned their jobs but saying he didn't know how many. He said the department was doing a roll call and he would know how many walked off the job within a few days.
At a news conference earlier Monday in New Orleans, Deputy Police Superintendent Warren Riley said between 400 and 500 officers on the 1,600-member police force are unaccounted for, Riley said. Some lost their homes and some are looking for their families, Riley said.
''Some simply left because they said they could not deal with the catastrophe,'' Riley said.
Compass said New Orleans had police ''who made the ultimate sacrifice for this city.''
''We had no food. We had no water. We ran out of ammunition. We had no vehicles. We were fighting in waist deep water that was infected and polluted,'' he said.
The looting and criminal activity involved a small group of people preying on the weak after being thrust into evacuation areas with regular citizens, Compass said.
And as for reports that police officers stood by while women were raped and people were beaten, the police chief responded, ''Are you crazy? We did everything that was humanly possible to protect human life.''
Without communication or lights, at night or inside dark buildings officers had to follow the traces of light made by fired weapons and physically wrest the guns from individuals' hands, Compass said. He said he didn't know how many people were shot by police since Katrina came ashore.
When asked what he thought of federal and state officials' response to the storm, he didn't offer criticism.
''I'm not a bureaucrat. I'm a police chief. Those type of questions I don't really answer ... We needed more resources, but those resources didn't come,'' Compass said.
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