Police Chief Stands Up To Critics

A New Orleans resident reaches out to thank New Orleans Police Capt. Marlon DeFillo, center, as Superintendent Eddie Compass, right, announces to the storm victims that food and water is on the way on Friday, Sept. 2, 2005. A huge military presence has arrived in the city, restoring order and bringing with them food and water to feed the thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) AP

Amid searing criticism and rumors of rampant force desertion, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass defended his department Monday with crisp but harsh words, saying officers held their ground without food, water and even ammunition in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"In the annals of history, no police department in the history of the world was asked to do what we (were) asked," Compass said with a mix of anger and pride.

Sgt. Paul Accardo was one of two city cops who committed suicide last week as New Orleans descended into an abyss of death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. He was found in an unmarked patrol car on Saturday in a downtown parking lot.

He wrote a note telling anyone who found him who to contact — a fellow officer. He was precise, and thoughtful, to the end. Then he stuck a gun into his mouth and killed himself. His funeral was planned for Tuesday.

Back when life was normal and structured, Accardo served as one of the police department's chief spokesmen. He reported murders, hostage situations and rapes in measured words, his bespectacled face benign and familiar on the nightly news.

"Paul was a stellar guy. A perfectionist. Everything had to be just right," recalled Sgt. Joe Narcisse, who went to police academy with Accardo and worked with him in the public affairs office. Two police officers killed themselves.

Defillo said he never thought Accardo would kill himself.

"We kept telling him, 'There's going to be a brighter day; suck it up,'" Defillo said. "He couldn't shake it."

Another officer was shot in the head. Compass said 150 had to be rescued from eight feet of water and others had gotten infections from walking through the murky soup of chemicals and pollutants in flooded areas of the city.

Compass denied that police officers deserted in droves. Some officers had abandoned their jobs, he said, but he did not know how many. He said the department was doing a roll call.'

But when Harry Smith of CBS News' Early Show asked New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin who bears the shame for what happened there last week, Nagin didn't point fingers at the police: "You know, I think we all do. I think this is America."

The officers still on the beat in the flooded city are being cycled off duty and given five-day vacations in Las Vegas and Atlanta, where they will be offered counseling, officials said.

At a news conference earlier Monday in New Orleans, Deputy Police Superintendent Warren Riley said between 400 and 500 officers on the 1,600-member police force are unaccounted for.

  • Gina Pace

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