The New Orleans Police Department, like its home city, has an unprecedented opportunity to reshape itself after Hurricane Katrina’s deadly damage, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Before the storm, the police were fighting a losing battle to stem the city’s stubbornly high crime rate. New Orleans was regularly listed in the top 10 of the nation’s most dangerous. Embarrassing internal corruption cases surfaced at a steady pace. Public’s confidence in the force was flagging, with many jurors as likely to believe the court testimony of a street-corner hustler as that of a seasoned detective. The Times-Picayune details police problems after Katrina and assesses prospects for improvement.
New Police Superintendent Warren Riley is seen as having an unprecedented opportunity to reshape a long-troubled organization and, more important, to get a grip on New Orleans’ persistent crime problems. The city’s forced depopulation scrubbed the streets clean of drug dealers, killers and stickup artists — at least for a while. “Some outstanding leaders were born as a result of this storm,” Riley said of his department. “And those who just had a job, well, they’ve moved on. Although we’re smaller by 200-some officers, we’re stronger.” Perhaps the centerpiece of Riley’s reorganization is a new Intelligence Bureau, which will work with federal authorities to track convicted felons as they return and short-circuit illegal activity before it takes root. “The fact that we’re not overwhelmed gives us the ability to track all criminals who reoccupy the city. We’ll go to bed with them and wake up with them,” Riley said. Says David Benelli, Police Association of New Orleans president, “We get an unabridged do-over.”