T Nation



Like all people, I am wondering why New Orleans degenerated into savagery. As I ponder, I'm reminded of Occam's Razor'

The simplest explanation is the best.

"Pluaritas non est ponenda sine neccesitate." Plurality should not be posited without necessity, is the Latin translation. Don't look for multiple complex reasons when a simple one will do.

KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. That's the modern day interpretation.

Perhaps, then, if we want to understand why law and order failed in New Orleans, we need to look no further than the people directly responsible for maintaining it: The New Orleans Police Department.

We still don't know all the facts but what we do know right now is grim: The cops had few contingency plans. Unprepared to deal with the flood, they stood by helplessly as the rising waters stripped the department of vehicles, communications and command and control. Several officers (that we know of) took part in the looting.

And large number of New Orleans police officers (some say hundreds) simply quit. Considering the devastation, roving gangs and heavily armed criminals they faced, New Orleans was as close to a combat zone as we can get this side of Baghdad. Add a new distinction to the NOPD: This would make their action the largest "desertion under fire" since the Civil War.

Remember the cops and firemen climbing the stairs of the World Trade Center? Why do some combat units hold the line while others melt away? It is espirit de corps, morale and above all leadership that give a unit the will to win against terrific odds. The simplest explanation is that the NOPD lacked the will to win.

Demoralization is nothing new among the "Finest" of the Big Easy. As Professor James Fyfe observed: "Some city police departments have a reputation for being brutal, like Los Angeles, or corrupt, like New York, and still others are considered incompetent. New Orleans has accomplished the rare feat of leading nationally in all three categories."

And that triumvirate of infamy has not come without a price. Many of the men and women feel little sense of duty or allegiance to the city they served.

In truth, we should be grateful that the NOPD performed as well as it did. Hundreds did not flee and these brave men and women stood their posts. But the desertion of police officers and their inability to meet the challenge of The Great Flood should come as little surprise.

A brief history. This is the department where an officer was convicted of hiring a hit-man to kill a woman who had lodged a brutality complaint against him. He was caught on tape discussing the murder. His arrest was part of a larger sting that busted hundreds of cops and civilians for being part of a drug ring. It's a department where hundreds more officers have been arrested for felonies such as rape, robberies and homicide in countless state and Federal investigations. And it's the department where a female officer was convicted of a vicious murder-robbery gone bad, where one of the murdered victims was the restaurant security guard . . . an off-duty cop from her own precinct.

Brutality, incompetence and corruption are the historic norm for the NOPD. In one incident, a black man, Adolph Archie, killed a white policeman during a shootout. Since Archie had also been shot, the cops transported him to a nearby hospital. Of course, they took their time getting him there. Archie eventually got to a hospital, where he died later that night. The Coroner had trouble identifying the cause of death. Perhaps it was the severe beating he got after his arrest that killed him. Or maybe he died because at some time during the night, someone had yanked the breathing tubes out of his throat and his injuries didn't allow him to breathe.

Eventually, the Coroner ruled the death a homicide. Cause? "Death by police intervention."

Archie's murder was nothing new. In another situation involving the murder of a white police officer, police-mobs went on a rampage in Algiers. Four residents died and 50 were injured. Many of the victims had been tortured, including two that were taken out to the swamps and subjected to mock executions.

When I first thought about examining the performance of the NOPD, I thought it might be useful to compare theirs to the performance of other police departments who faced great crisis. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and blizzards have hit many large American cities before, and their departments held the thin blue line.

That's the obvious comparison.

And then I thought of the Titanic.

That's right, the ship. The great big one that hit an iceberg and sank in April, 1912.

Well, to be more specific, I thought about the crew of the Titanic. After all, the crew on a doomed ship sinking into the dark, freezing waters of the Atlantic is expected to come to the rescue of the passengers, much like the NOPD should have come to the rescue of its citizenry when the city began to sink.

So let's compare. How did the doomed crew of the Titanic perform?

First, it's important to note that like in New Orleans, the Titanic's crew failed to properly use its "buses," in this case, the small, wooden lifeboats. There weren't enough and neither the crew nor passengers had sufficient training on how to use them. They had briefly rehearsed an evacuation but the drills had been perfunctory. There was a "plan" but no one was exactly sure what it was.

Gee, this is sounding more and more like New Orleans all the time. Let's go on.

We believe that there were a total of 2,229 people on the Titanic of which 913 (41%) were part of the crew.

A total of 713 people survived the disaster (32%). That includes both passengers and crew.

498 out of 1,316 passengers survived (38%).

215 out of 913 crew survived (24%).

In other words, although they could have seized the lifeboats, abandoned the passengers and fled, the crew did not. As a result, over twice more passengers than crew survived.

To really grasp the magnitude of this, we have to remember that most of the crew consisted of poor, unskilled laborers. How poor? Most were as poor, if not more poor, than even the 3rd Class passengers.

Ironically, the issue of class distinction that surfaced during the New Orleans evacuation also surfaced when the Titanic sank. Although it seems like I'm straying from the issue of the New Orleans Police Department, bear with me. I'll tie the two together for you.

Here goes. As best as we can tell, the survival rates of the "classes" on the Titanic break down like this:

202 of 325 total 1st Class passengers survived (62%). How rich were these people? Well, consider that a 1st Class suite on Titanic's maiden voyage cost $100,000 in today's dollars.

118 of 285 2nd Class passengers survived (41%)

Only 178 of 706 3rd Class passengers survived (25%).

So, the numbers appear to tell us that class distinction certainly had an impact on who lived and died.

But not so fast. Before, the chants of "class-ism" begin, let's look at one final statistic.

Remember that "shamefully" high 62% survival percentage for the 1st Class passengers%

Well, they were mostly women. Of 144 women traveling 1st Class, only four perished and 140 survived . . . a whopping 97%.

In fact, the overall survival rate for women on the Titanic was excellent that night. Seventy-four percent (74%) of all women passengers survived, compared to only 18% of male passengers.

And this is a good time to remind you that many of the men who willingly gave up their seats were 1st Class passengers, white, wealthy and powerful almost beyond our comprehension today.

So there WAS a story of "class" on the Titanic that night.

Those rich male passengers and those lowly crew members all had it in common. A certain type of class, I mean. They had a code of ethical behavior. A sense of "the right thing to do" when the going got tough. A sense of duty for duty's sake. This ethical standard cut across economic lines and it made comrades of poor and rich alike.

And that's what was really missing in the NOPD. It wasn't just the history of corruption, brutality, incompetence and the demoralization caused by years of investigations and reforms.

What was missing in New Orleans among so many police officers was a basic sense of duty. I think it made the difference between those who stayed and those who quit.

Time for the final question. Is what happened in New Orleans unique or is a symptom of something larger at work?

Once again we can look to the Titanic for an answer. Perhaps the saddest thing about the crew of the Titanic is that their example of "duty" didn?t survive the 20th Century. It didn't even survive the decade.

I keep seeing the image of the lights on the Titanic glowing brightly, the only lights in an ocean of dark. And suddenly the lights went out.

Two years after the Titanic's sinking, Europe fought the "war to end all wars." Millions died and with it died a way of life. The generation that produced the crew of the Titanic gave way to The Lost Generation. The role of women changed. Economies collapsed. Values changed. Federal paternalism and social welfare created a dependency mentality where one asks first what he is owed rather than what he owes.

In 1934, just 22 years after the Titanic sank, the cruise ship Moro Castle caught fire off the coast of New Jersey. The crew abandoned ship, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves in the burning wreck. Many passengers jumped in the water to escape the flames and 134 drowned.

Just coincidence, or an indication that something had changed in the world?

So perhaps it isn't just the sordid record of the New Orleans Police Department that's to blame. Maybe it's just this world of ours that threatens the idea. The idea that in times of great crisis, you stand your post so that the other man can live. Duty, honor, country. The idea that you do your duty for duty's sake.

Thankfully, it hasn't died completely. It still glows here and there, across every generation, in military schools, homes and organizations across the Nation. It glows in Iraq and wherever our military serves. It glows wherever a cop walks a beat or an EMT answers a 911 call. It glows, not as strong as it was on the night the Titanic sank, but not extinguished yet.

But the sense of duty died that week in New Orleans. Let's hope that we can learn from the experience to make that flame burn brighter.



well col. JJJJ

im a cop in the air foce. and it made me sick to see NO cops in walmart on national tv looking for shoes.

then when i heard that so many had turned in there badge to the city they where suppost to protect. i couldnt believe it.

i mean hear i am just getting back from iraq. being shot at everyday. going days without a shower. eating MRE's MMMMMMM.

what if i was to just quit and say fuck it. what would the world think of me then. to quit is not a luxury i have.

or something i would ever think about.

these people where suppost to help restore order. but some wanted to take part in the lotting.

when u become a cop u know the risk of what could happen. but yet you do it anyway. for the people who cant protect themselves.

i have only 1 thing to say to thoughs people.

if i can go to Iraq and do my duty for my country and protect our home land from ensurgents. then u cant do your duty in NO to protect thouse who cant protect themselve.

we in the millitary protect u.


Ummmm...most these people had no clean or dry clothes and everything they owned was blown away. Shoes should be the least of your worries.


im not worried about the people that were looting to find clothes and food for them selves. im talking about the police that where doing the same thing. right along side of them. now granted there was not much they could do.

but if im not mistaken police arent suppost to break the law. they are to uphold it.

once again it comes back to duty.

if u are a cop in that situation. just keep some kind of order. dont let anyone beat someone for shoes or food.



Men will follow a strong leader. Leadership was lacking except for a few standouts.

Contrast that with the NYPD that expects excellence of leadership at all levels and you can see the institutional difference.


Very well said!


JJJ, are you from New Orleans? And did you write all that or is it an article from somewhere else?


"Duty, honor, country." Familiar words Colonel. (Class of '76)


The first question you had in this post--why people degenerated into savagery is one that sticks out more to me than the failure of the NOPD to maintain law & order--although that is an important seperate issue. The people that acted like savages(shooting people, raping, etc.) were savages before this thing hit.

From my experiences down there in the 9th ward and some of the surrounding areas there are tons of worthless savages that would pick a fight and intimidate people. I know lots of good people that live in those areas too but compared to other cities I have been in, the people in those areas seemed especially thuggish. So no surprise to me when disaster struck and these people took advantage. They didn't degenerate into savagery, they were degenerates already.


Okay, but more recent reports talk about the fact that almost all of the police officers continued working.

Hell, if I had to work wearing the same clothes for a week, I might just steal a change of clothes and a pair of shoes that weren't wet as well. I might even help people get at the supplies in question if it was likely to be the difference between life and death.

I can just imagine protecting a store full of food and water while people starve in the street. Would that be what you would consider doing your duty? You are quick to criticize a situation that does not conform to the daily law and order we are used to.

Anyway, I think you are just looking to scapegoat the few bad officers that may have been present as being to blame for things.

Law and order did not fall down because of the actions of a few officers. Law and order fell down because the institutions that IMPOSE law and order were unable to do so while the people in the area were in what they perceived to be a survival crisis.

There are always the lawless antisocial elements of society in our midst. In the breakdown of infrastructure in New Orleans and area, these miscreants simply went wild.

Anyway, without cars, electricity, communications, command and control infrastructure, any ability to hold and process arrested citizens or any ability to effectively deliver aid to the needy, I don't know what you would expect of the officers. Maybe you should listen to those that worked continously for days on end before judging them all.

They are just men, not miracle workers. I think that some of you have pretty unrealistic and idealist expectations concerning people.

Also, the New York disaster is not a fair comparison at all, the surrounding infrastructure and facilities were all intact, there was no real loss of ability for the government to deliver on its duties and responsibilities.

I repeat, the government fell down. It was not present... and without organization it would be hard for police officers to spontaneously develop a cohesive strategy. Let's get serious.


The New Orleans police department is notorious for corruption. Inspite of the fact that some of them are in it to just enrich themselves most of the officers stayed and worked.

A significant number walked off the job.

The city will be better off without the ones that walked off the job.

Let us celebrate the ones that did their jobs under difficult circumstances.



I wrote it because I felt that the concept of duty for the sake of duty wasn't well understood or being discussed in the media. I've been trying to understand in my own head the difference between the NYPD and the NOPD.

Never lived in NO but my wife did for 15 years. Personally, I thought the place was a cess-pool BEFORE it flooded, but she liked it.


Let me toss out a hypothetical question with respect to duty.

You are a cop. You live in a disaster zone. Your wife and children are seriously affected, just like thousands of other citizens in the area. Lawlessness is rampant and there is no ability to tell if and when help will be coming.

Do you:

A) Declare "I am the law" as per Judge Dredd and single handedly fix the entire disaster while leaving your own family to the wolves, because they don't matter;


B) Decide that you will try to enforce some type of law and order around your own home (if you are lucky enough that it still exists) and protect your family;


C) Decide that since your home was destroyed and your wife and family are without shelter that you will loot a store for a backpack, fill it with food and water, and escort your family to safer territory.

Again, this should help point out some of the differences between New York and New Orleans with repect to continued provision of services.

In New York, emergency services personnel were not facing a shutdown of support services and utilities nor were they facing direct external threats to the life and safety of their families and friends.

Society has fallen down in the past, though perhaps not so close to home and so visibly. Perhaps the hunt for scapegoats (the citizens, the cops, local officials) is partially driven by an unwillingness to admit that this is the reality of life?

There is only a fragile veneer of civilization and it isn't hard to strip it away.



I was just wondering how you knew some of the stories of the NOPD.

I do live in New Orleans and haven't seen any proof of the "scores" or "hundreds" of police that quit. Nothing has been said since a day or two after the storm about officers quitting. If you were around here and could only hear the insane rumors that float around you'd understand why I don't give any credit to national news stories that don't have proof, pictures or credible sources.

Of course some must have walked away. Two also commited suicide. I know of one from an outlying parish that once evacuated turned in his badge.

Everyone comments on here about all these stories the hear or read. Let the proof be there first then get to bashing the city.


The possible differences between NOPD and NYPD during all of this.

People wondered how workers in N.O. were getting trips provided to them as they were cycled out of the city for new troops etc. and were saying that NY didn't do that with their workers.

NY workers could take leave if they wanted to a couple of blocks away. They still had power, water and provisions and care could be brought to them still. They could sleep in buildings or hotels in the city. Nothing of the sort is even close to being feasible down here. The storm hit 8/29 and today is 9/14 and I'm working out by the airport many miles away from the city and have to eat MRE's and can't drink the water. Only a Wendy's is open here. Still have to drive a mile or two to get gas and have to be let back in by armed military or police. People are just starting to be allowed in the outlying areas. So the workers had and still have no where to go. In the first few days all people were stuck down there. Even the ones that quit must have had a very hard time surviving or getting out.



you have some good points, but the NOPD is notoriusly corrupt, underpaid and over worked. i am a police officer, and they've recruited from my area. at the time, they paid around $25,000 a year...which is probably the WORST paying large department in the country. i know that there are many large corporations that were going to centralize in NO, but after dealing with the corrupt government, chose Texas instead.



With respect to your question above where you present three options . . . I would go with Option 4.

Let me explain and do so by using the military model.

As a cop, you're hopefully smarter and better prepared than the average person on the street. You also work for an organization that plans ahead for things like this. For example, what if instead of a flood, it had been a dirty bomb . . . or a small nuke . . . or a huge chemical spill.

So, your wife and family would have a pre-rehearsed evacuation plan, money set aside specifically for emergencies, food, water, first aid kit, flashlights, etc. You'd have home insurance and a list (and photos) of all belongings. You would each have contact numbers. You'd have a pre-prepared place to evac to. Your wife and you would each have a cell phone. You would have a third number (like an uncle in Maine) where you could leave messages for each other. You would have explained to your wife what your job duties entailed so she didn't have the fear of the unknown. You would have had her do most of the planning to give her a sense of ownership and control (reduces stress). Your kids would all know "the plan." You would have talked about it and rehearsed it as a family.

Then when the "big one" hit, you would be ready and wouldn't be faced with your three choices.

Now, this all involves good leadership that cares about their "troops" and demands that they prepare. It also demands a sense of personal responsibility.

My guess is that the "troubles" of the NOPD have destroyed much of the leadership climate.

When troops/cops/firemen run away, it's usually a leadership problem. There are no "bad soldiers" only bad leaders.


MR WHITE, excellent point. I agree completely.

Two additional points:

I would first add that the Pief-Of-Cholice has said that many of his people are "unaccounted for."

Second, I'm not trying to bash NO or the cops. My point is that we need to recognize what happened as an example for ALL units and organizations.

I'm sure the NOPD will do some soul-searching after this and future reforms will focus on creating a better leadership climate.



I'm very disappointed. You sidestepped the whole issue of having to make tough decisions.

Life is very simple when you think about it, but much more difficult when you live it.

Obviously, all the police in north america are just too stupid to run their lives as you feel they should...

Howabout manning up and forcing yourself to make a tough decision?


VROOM . . . no, it's not about "all cops being too stupid." What I'm trying to explain to you is that with a good leadership climate and good leaders who think about this kind of thing BEFORE-HAND . . . then the cop on the beat doesn't HAVE to make the kind of choices you propose.

But, I'll bite.

OK . . . let's suppose space aliens landed tomorrow and Death-Rayed the road networks and communications networks and started slaying people right and left. What should a cop/fireman/EMT do?

What I notice about your choices are that they are all INDIVIDUAL choices. You've told me nothing about the organization he works for. Is it functioning as a cohesive unit? Are the leaders competent? Do they care about their people?

If so, then there's still an Option 4. The chain-of-command recognizes the needs and fears of their "foot soldiers" and deals with the situation "as a unit." They grab trucks and buses and put armed officers on board and they go out and rescue the familes of their men and bring them to a central location. Or they do it in shifts. "Bill, you're a single guy so you stay on duty, while Joe, you take an hour and go get your family and bring them here."

Notice that it's the sergeant taking care of the problem. You're not leaving the man to fend for himself.

It's not an INDIVIDUAL problem . . . it's a COLLECTIVE problem and it gets handled by the unit. In New Orleans, APPARENTLY that did not happen in some places.

Now, if THAT cohesive climate doesn't exist in the organization, you're fucked.

I suppose you just have to rely on the individual's sense of duty and courage.

Me, PERSONALLY, I would stay on duty and fight the aliens because I trust my wife to take care of business by herself. She's a better shot than I am.

Bottom line: When individuals are forced to make decisions like the ones you propose, then that means the unit has ceased to function.

I mentioned the military in my first response. The military has years of experience having to deal with emergencies at the home-front while the husband is deployed.

They've adopted a very PROACTIVE stance to avoid soldiers having to make the choices you propose. As a result, units that deploy today don't have nearly the same problems that they used to have, say 20 years ago.

I suspect that this issue will be one of the first priorites in the "new" NOPD.