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THE NEW ORLEANS POLICE MELTDOWN

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 28, 2005 10:23 AM

This morning, Washington will be engaged in more finger-pointing sessions between the feds and La. Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

But keep your eye on New Orleans and the unfolding debacle over the meltdown of the local police. As noted yesterday, superintendent Eddie Compass abruptly resigned. If he and mayor Ray Nagin think that will end scrutiny of the police department’s Katrina failures, think again. Via NOLA.com:

The news conference ended abruptly, with Nagin and Compass quickly parting and leaving through separate exits. In response to a shouted question about whether he asked for Compass’ resignation, Nagin said, “No.” The mayor also declined to elaborate in an email Tuesday afternoon.

“No comment,” Nagin wrote. “The chief asks everyone to respect his privacy. He requested the press conference be held the way it was handled. He is a good man. Don’t mess with him!”

But several sources said the sudden retirement came after a private meeting between Compass, 47, and the mayor not long before the announcement.

The announcement came two days after several comments Compass had made repeatedly about the alleged violence that had engulfed emergency shelters at the Superdome and Ernest N.Morial Convention Center were countered by others to be hyperbolic and based on faulty intelligence.

Compass had come under fire for a variety of other reasons after Katrina. At first, he seemed invisible, holed up in the Hyatt Hotel with Nagin and other city leaders. As anarchy threatened to overwhelm the city, cops on the street said they “had no chief.”

Widespread looting, some of it conducted by police officers, branded New Orleans worldwide as lawless, and almost 249 officers left their posts without permission.

After that first week, however, Compass became a seemingly omnipresent fixture in media accounts, and was feted by broadcast news stars. After the crisis was in full swing, Compass was a virtual quote machine, offering a down-home mix of empathy and bravado.

“I’m still standing. I’m the ultimate warrior,” Compass was quoted two weeks after the storm. “I’m going to be the last person to leave the battlefield.”

While his tearful interviews made him a compelling local face of the horrors of the storm, his decision to leave the city and flip the coin at a New Orleans Saints game in Giants Stadium on Monday Night Football on Sept. 19 was criticized by some of his rank and file…

…Compass is the latest in a series of high-profile members of the Nagin administration to resign during the mayor’s first term. Those who preceded him out the door included two chief administrative officers, an intergovernmental aide, the economic development director and a communications director.

The New Orleans Times Picayune has scathing editorials focusing on Compass and Nagin’s rumor-mongering (Compass told Oprah Winfrey babies were being raped, Nagin claimed hundreds were being raped and killed at the Superdome) and on the longstanding problems with the police department. Excerpt:

The Police Department was in virtual chaos after the storm, with dedicated street officers left to organize themselves to try to curb looting and violence. Mr. Compass himself acknowledged this week that 249 officers were missing in action after the storm, and many of them abandoned residents in their most vulnerable hours. Some officers even took part in looting the Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street.

Mayor Nagin characterized the chief’s departure as a sad day for New Orleans, but in truth, the move is a positive step for the city. If the mayor hastened Superintendent Compass’ exit, he did the right thing.

This is a crucial time for New Orleans, and the rebuilding and recovery of the city depends to a great degree on how secure it is. As businesses and residents move back into the city, they need to be able to have complete confidence in the Police Department and its chief.

Mr. Compass’ performance in the past four weeks has made it impossible to trust his ability to lead the department. Even before Katrina blew through the city and left much of it full of water, this was a department in some trouble. Five days before Katrina hit, a two-year veteran of the force was booked with aggravated rape, kidnapping and malfeasance in office after a woman accused him of assault. That brought the total to 11 officers who were arrested in 2004 and 2005 on criminal charges ranging from shoplifting to conspiracy to rob a bank. Violence in the city was a stubborn problem as well, with the murder rate rising week by week compared with the year before.

This is not the best time to be searching for a new police chief. It would be better to have stability in such a crucial job. But New Orleans does not have the luxury of waiting for a more convenient time to replace Superintendent Compass.

Question: Will all the cable and network shows that fawned over Compass over the past four weeks follow up with investigations of his failures?

***

An eyebrow-raising detail from the Shreveport Times:

The police chief’s decision “freaked me out,” said state Rep. Alex Heaton, D-New Orleans, who described Compass as “a cop’s superintendent” because he worked his way up through the department. “To go out at this time when we need the best policeman around is not good for the city.”

Heaton said he was puzzled that Compass gave no reason for his decision. “You’ve got to give a reason. I don’t think it was from burn-out. Personally, I thought he was doing a good job.”

Nagin hinted at Tuesday’s press conference that Compass would not remain in the city. He and Compass declined to answer questions after the announcement.

“I trust he is going to make a lot of money when he leaves the city of New Orleans,” Nagin said.

Hmmmm…

***
Related: Fox News radio/tv host Tony Snow has been investigating reports of ghost cops on the N.O. payroll. More details here.

Here’s audio of Tony’s report. (Hat tip: Chris Regan)

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