More than a week ago, at the first hint Gustav could be a threat to New Orleans, police Superintendent Warren Riley issued an unusual order – he gave all the city’s 1,485 officers paid time off to get their families to safety. It was a lesson learned from the bitter experience of Hurricane Katrina, when dozens of officers were roundly criticized for abandoning their posts as their colleagues and the citizens they were sworn to protect were left swamped, scared and at the mercy of lawlessness. Some were called cowards. Several dozen ended up being fired.
Many of the officers who left said the storm forced them to make an agonizing choice: Take care of strangers or take care of your family, reports the Associated Press. This time around, the department was doing all it could to make sure that officers had enough of a chance to do both, well ahead of Gustav’s landfall. “It’s a double-edged sword, and it’s either your co-workers or your family,” said Officer Carolyn Dalton. “And I will choose my family every time.” While hundreds of officers were initially believed to have abandoned their posts after Katrina, the numbers turned out to be much lower. Most were simply stranded, unable to report for duty.