Tuesday, September 13, 2005

To Be A New Orleans Police Officer

Excerpts from a Washington Post article today:
They sleep on the concrete sidewalk or in their cars. They scavenge for food from abandoned stores and cook by fire. They wash the laundry by hand and leave it to dry on lines hung from lampposts.

This is what life has been like for New Orleans police officers since Hurricane Katrina tore apart their city nearly two weeks ago.


In the days before the hurricane, the police force numbered 1,750. After Katrina, officials could account for only a few more than 1,200. No one knows whether the missing are dead, injured or just could not face the horror of the work.

During the worst of it, when people were drowning in their homes and dying because of a lack of basic necessities, two officers put guns to their heads and killed themselves. Two hundred quit. An estimated 70 percent of the force is now homeless.


Until Thursday, when the first batch of officers was allowed to take a five-day vacation, the force had been working nonstop for 11 days. They watched people urinate on themselves because no bathrooms were available, they saw babies die of starvation, and they pulled dead bodies from the Superdome and convention center.

To other rescue workers, the victims were nameless strangers. To New Orleans officers, they were neighbors, friends, family members.


For David Holtzclaw, 42, a tough-talking, macho police officer who has been on the force for nearly 25 years and has seen many dead bodies, it's about a baby. He was helping at the convention center one night when a man came up to him carrying his baby in a filthy blanket.

"The baby's lips were blue," he remembered. He hadn't eaten in days, and the mother was unable to breast-feed because she was ill.

Holtzclaw didn't know what to do. There was no hospital, no paramedics to call. He rushed the father and baby into his car, and began speeding west, away from the water. He stopped in St. Charles Parish and called an emergency medical service crew, which picked up the child. He found out later that the baby did not survive.
"I never thought in my wildest fears that this could happen -- that a baby could starve like that in America. I have to think God has a reason," he said.