The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has been both demonized and eulogized, often inaccurately and sometimes unfairly, for its conduct during Hurricane Katrina, which hit land 10 years ago this week, Peter Scharf and Stephen Phillippi of Louisiana State University write for The Conversation. While the media have focused on the legal actions against the police and speculated about officer conduct during and after Katrina, little attention has been paid to the complex and contradictory stories or narratives that have emerged to explain police conduct during the storm, they say.
The authors, a criminologist and a public health professor, say “these legacy narratives call out for closer examination to determine how the NOPD can improve in realistic and measurable ways.” The police officers who mobilized for the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 were largely unprepared and divided, say Scharf and Phillippi. The department had many good and competent officers but was still reeling from scandals and a pernicious organizational culture a decade earlier, in which police “patrols” at times commingled with illegal drug trade groups. Today the NOPD faces a crisis of manpower, morale questions, increased murder rates and resurgence of questions about police integrity – all legacies of Hurricane Katrina, say Scharf and Phillippi. A 30 percent increase in murders through July 2015 compared with 2014 may be linked to a pattern of “de-policing” that is, the advice to just “sit in your car and you won't get fired, shot, sued or prosecuted,” another post-Katrina effect, the authors write.