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Saturday, October 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New Orleans police fire 51 for desertion

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Fifty-one members of the New Orleans Police Department — 45 officers and six civilian employees — were fired Friday for abandoning their posts before or after Hurricane Katrina.

"They were terminated due to them abandoning the department prior to the storm," acting superintendent Warren Riley said. "They either left before the hurricane or 10 to 12 days after the storm and we have never heard from them."

Police were unable to account for 240 officers on the 1,450-member force after the hurricane. The force has been investigating them to see if they left their posts during the storm.

Police will not be disciplined if they had good reason for not reporting, including those who were trapped on rooftops awaiting evacuation or out of radio contact, a police spokesman said.

New Orleans police have been widely criticized for failing to control lawlessness after Katrina.

The mass firing was the first action taken against the missing officers. An additional 15 officers resigned when placed under investigation for abandonment.

"This isn't representative of our department," Riley said. "We had a lot of heroes that stepped up after the storm."

Forty-five more officers resigned from the force after the Aug. 29 storm. The resignations were for personal reasons ranging from relocation to new employment, Riley said.

The fired officers do not have the right to appeal, Riley said.

"The regulation says that if you leave the job for a period of 14 days without communication, you can be terminated," Riley said. "I don't think they have the right to a civil-service appeal."

Lt. David Benelli, president of the New Orleans police union, said he had no sympathy for those who abandoned their post.

"The worst thing you can call a police officer is a deserter," Benelli said.

None of the officers had contacted the union about fighting the dismissals, he said.

Two former New Orleans police officers and a New Orleans firefighter were rejected for jobs in the Dallas Police Department because of allegations they deserted their jobs during Katrina.

"When you are ready and take an oath of office and you do not fulfill that office, that's an issue for us and it should be an issue for law enforcement in general," Dallas Deputy Chief Floyd Simpson said Thursday.

Hearings for the New Orleans officers who remain under investigation for abandonment will begin Nov. 8 and last four to six months, Riley said.

Material from Reuters is included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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