Friday, September 30, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Twelve New Orleans police officers under investigation for looting after hurricane

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans police department, battered by criticism over its response to Hurricane Katrina and reeling from the resignation of its chief this week, announced yesterday that it has launched an investigation into officer misconduct in the chaotic days after the storm struck.

Police officers are suspected of standing by while looters emptied stores. Some are suspected of looting themselves. Witnesses reportedly saw police officers helping themselves to items from the shelves at a Wal-Mart in the lower Garden District.

The department also said that about 250 police officers could face discipline for leaving their posts without permission during the crisis.

Acting Police Superintendent Warren Riley said that of the 12 officers under investigation for looting, four have been suspended for failing to stop looting, Riley said.

"It was not clear that they in fact looted," Riley said of the four suspended officers. "What is clear is that some action needed to be taken and it was not."

Riley drew a distinction between taking useful items such as food and jeans, which he contended didn't amount to looting in a crisis, and taking luxuries such as jewelry.

Riley insisted the department is still functioning well and was able to handle the increased workload as the city comes back to life. Yesterday, Mayor Ray Nagin opened the French Quarter, central business district and Uptown area to business owners. Today, residents of those areas will be allowed to return.

Riley replaced Superintendent Eddie Compass, who stepped down Tuesday from a department that was troubled long before Katrina arrived. Federal officials recently completed an eight-year investigation into police abuse and civil-rights violations. From 1994 to 1999, 200 police officers were dismissed or convicted of crimes, including two murders.


Test penalties could be eased

WASHINGTON — States that are educating thousands of hurricane-displaced students could avoid penalties — for one school year — if math and reading scores are lower than expected, the Bush administration said yesterday.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the administration wants to be flexible about testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

But states shouldn't stop testing their students in grades three through eight and one year in high school as the 2002 law requires.

"Every displaced student will be tested, and the results will be made public to ensure that every child gets the attention he or she needs and deserves," Spellings told the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Schools that have taken in large numbers of evacuees — Texas schools, for instance, have absorbed nearly 45,000 students — have the option of testing those students separately, the Education Department said.

About 372,000 students were displaced by the two hurricanes.


Officials estimate 1-2 years for cleanup

NEW ORLEANS — It will take between one and two years to clean up the debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, state and federal officials said yesterday.

To speed the cleanup, the state attorney general's office has granted cleanup workers broad authority to begin demolishing flood-wrecked homes and businesses as soon as the worst of the debris is clear — with or without the property owners' permission.

Everything removed from the damaged city will be recycled. Downed trees will be burned or used to fuel the boilers at paper mills. The thousands of ruined automobiles will be stripped for parts and everything will be recycled — from steel to tires to mercury switches.

Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, the Corps commander in New Orleans, said he hopes to have the last of Katrina's debris picked up and processed by Oct. 12, 2006. But in Baton Rouge, state and federal environmental officials projected it will take at least a year and maybe 18 months.

Financial aid

Government offers to pay 3 months' rent

WASHINGTON — The government is offering $2,358 to victims of Hurricane Katrina to help pay for three months' rent, but is no longer handing out $2,000 to people who need immediate cash assistance.

The new rental program began this week and only applies to housing, unlike the previous cash program that offered money to eligible hurricane victims for immediate needs such as food, transportation and shelter.

Those qualifying can receive $2,358 toward three months of housing, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development hope will help transition the thousands of displaced families dependent on temporary shelters.

But the program also replaces the cash program that had provided nearly 752,000 households each with $2,000 in the wake of Katrina. FEMA said more than $1.5 billion was handed out, but then applications slowed.

Another government program that offered Katrina victims $2,000 debit cards per affected household ran into administrative problems and was scrapped.


A poll released yesterday found the president is getting much better marks from the public for his handling of the response to Hurricane Rita than he did for Katrina late last month. Seven in 10 respondents say they approve of Bush's response to Rita, while 22 percent disapprove, a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll found. Forty percent said they approve of his handling of Katrina, while 54 percent said they disapprove.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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