September 08, 2005
On September 8, 2005, Jason Songe sat down with a New Orleans Police Officer to discuss his service from the storm’s beginning on August 29th up until September 6th, when he was allowed six days leave. Names of people and places have been omitted to protect the officer’s identity.
JS(Jason Songe): Why don’t you just start from the beginning? From when the storm started.
PO(Police Officer): Alright. I’m not sure of the exact day. It hit Florida. Everybody thought it was gonna disappear—whatever. It was shortly after that—I believe everybody woke up Saturday and knew that shit was coming. On Saturday night at role call, they were like, “Sunday night, be here, 6 p.m. You’re not going home until this is over. Bring food and water and what not.” By that time it was too late because they were pretty much in a panic. It intensified to a cat 5. We went into work on Sunday night. We were taking calls for service. We were gonna work until we were relieved. We were gonna work until there were 50 mph sustained winds, at which time they were gonna pull us off. As soon as we started feeling the effects of it, the beginning winds or whatever…
JS: How were they gonna figure out when it got to 50?
PO: Apparently, I don’t know, they gave us weather updates on the radio, so they must have had something because they were saying sustained winds were at 35 mph.
JS: But, then it got bad and…
PO: Well, as soon as we started seeing rain and what not, all the city gas pumps started failing because the power was going out. They had one pump in New Orleans East, so everybody had to drive to that and hurry up and re-fuel before—I guess we got pulled off the street—the second district quit at about 2:30 and we quit at about 4, and we went to our hotel and we didn’t see much damage at that time.
JS: So, another shift came on at 4?
PO: Nobody. There was no police.
JS: There was nobody on the street?
JS: So, 4 a.m. Monday morning. Y’all went to the hotel. Y’all weren’t ready to go to sleep, so y’all are like, ‘Let’s party.’
PO: Yeah, we were having a good time. Hurricane’s are for parties. Whatever.
JS: Yeah, no, exactly. That’s totally New Orleans.
PO: Yeah. We were hoopin’ it up, but because we were supposed to be relieved in the morning, by the time the storm quelled down, it was 10 in the morning, our sergeant came and woke us up because we had passed out in the lobby of the hotel. He got us and said we had to work. We were like, “Fuck, there’s another shift. Where are they?” So, we had to go back to work and take some calls for service for a couple of hours until they could scrounge up the next group and get ready to mobilize them. We at least knew where all our people were at the time. And that morning, dude, it was a fucking free-for-all as far as looting went in the city.
JS: So, I think maybe the tendency for people now, at least for me, is to think of the destruction as being not that bad right off the bat before the levees broke. But, I guess it was kinda bad?
PO: Well, there was a lot of wind damage and tree damage. There were a lot of downed trees and shit. St. Charles was impassable. You had to drive on the median, but we kinda commandeered a Bobcat that afternoon and we cleared drive ways through our big streets—Louisiana and St. Charles and streets like that—so we could get around. There wasn’t that much water. The projects were flooded. Headquarters was fucked.
JS: It was flooded?
PO: The evidence room was flooded. The jails—we couldn’t get to the jail. At that point, it wasn’t that the jail was flooded, it was just that you couldn’t get to it. They were still alright. This is before they had to evacuate them.
JS: But, you said it was still a free-for-all?
PO: Right. Definetely that morning…
JS: They were looting already?
PO: Fucking right. I think the minute they woke up, they started looting. No joke ‘cause we got to work and it had just begun. Business burglary after business burglary after business burglary. We had nowhere to put ‘em. We had no jails.
JS: So what’d you do with ‘em?
PO: Kicked their ass? All we could do was beat the piss out of them and run them up the street.
JS: And hope they wouldn’t do it again.
PO: Right. These kids that we got in a stolen car—we made them strip down and do push-ups next to the dead lady.
JS: What?! It was a dead woman from the hurricane?
PO: Uh-huh. She was just laying on the street. We had nowhere to bring her.
JS: Oh my God. What about the hospitals?
PO: The hospitals wouldn’t take them because the hospitals were flooded.
JS: So Charity was flooded?
PO: Yeah, Charity was flooded. In fact, they were stuck there for three or four days, and the nurses were giving each other IV’s to stay hydrated. That’s how bad it was. They had no supplies, either.
JS: Even before the levee broke?
PO: Even before the levee broke there was hysteria, but it just magnified once they were like, “Oh, Fuck.” Hold on. So, they were doing the looting, and they were shooting at each other. They were shooting each other, which was fine. I don’t think it was until that night, maybe, when they started shooting at us. There was a dead body on the street—the first one that we had. She was apparently out during the storm and something had fallen and hit her in the head. We were waiting. At this point, we found out that EMS was nowhere to be found, the Fire Department was nowhere to be found…
JS: So, they already took off?
PO: They didn’t take off. They just weren’t operational. You’d call for EMS--“EMS is not operational.”
JS: They gave no reason?
PO: No. I imagine it was because half the fleet was flooded because their main place is out on Moss Street, which is where the 3rd District Station is, which was under 30 feet of water. They were on top of LSU Medical Center. Somethin’ like that. So, we didn’t have the coroner, we didn’t have crime lab, we didn’t have anything. Headquarters was flooded. The radios were fucked. We were working off of JP’s emergency channel. So, we had shit going on. We were trying to get in. JP was trying to dispatch their shit. And, we’re trying to talk.
JS: All on one channel?
PO: Yeah. Because our radio communications was fucked.
JS: So, that was crazy?
PO: Well, our radios barely work to begin with, but this just added to it.
JS: So, y’all are driving around, getting dispatches…
JS:…but also looking for things while you’re driving.
PO: Right, but there was almost no time to look for it because we had looting calls lined up. Actually, you know what, the day after the hurricane our radios did work.
JS: That was Tuesday?
PO: Maybe Monday. Monday during the day, but then they didn’t work, later in the day. It’s kinda hard to denote time because there was no such thing as it because you just worked all the time. Even when you weren’t, you couldn’t sleep. It was weird.
JS: You probably had so much adrenaline.
PO: That was the only thing—we were just working off of adrenaline. There was no such thing as sleep. No, I know for sure the radio was working because we were getting dispatched calls from our dispatcher. And then it didn’t work anymore. I don’t know why.
JS: Was there anything that happened of note before the levees broke?
PO: What do you mean?
JS: When did you found out the levees were broken?
PO: Shit, probably not until the next morning. I want to say Tuesday morning. Does that sound right?
JS: That sounds about right. Did anything happen Monday night?
PO: Ummm, I couldn’t give you the time. I can tell you what happened, I just can’t tell you when it happened.
JS: OK, go ahead.
PO: We had role calls all the time—the captain was talking to us. At this point, we had no clue where the chiefs were. We hadn’t heard from ‘em. I know Riley was still there. Compass—we had no clue whether he had left the city or not. We never heard him. It was at that time that we realized we had no supplies. They had no supplies for us. There was no preparation for us. They didn’t have anything like, “You’re gonna get here, you’re gonna do this. Here’s the food, here’s the water. Whatever.” It was like, “I hope you can survive for a little while.”
JS: So, they were giving you no food, no water?
PO: No. So, in between the looting we realized we had no gas. We had gas but it was getting really low. We had bodies but didn’t know where to put them. We had no food.
JS: Did you realize at this point you were gonna have to start looting—commandeering?
PO: Commandeering—there’s a special word for it. That was the first time that we took the trip to the [department store]. We stocked up, got some canned goods and enough stuff—they actually cooked for us the first two or three days. We had the female detectives cooking for the district.
JS: Inside the [department store]?
PO: No, inside of the station. We were still in the station at this point because there was no water around it and we have a natural gas generator. Everything works except the air conditioning. It was hot as nuts up there, but we could still maintain some normalcy. We had power. We had lights. We had radios. We could still do our essential functions.
JS: So, that was maybe until Wednesday or Thursday.
PO: No, not even that far. This was before the levee broke. Whatever night the levee had broken and it still hadn’t been majorly publicized, the fire department came in and they were like, “Ahhh, we’re all gonna fuckin’ die! The levee broke, blah, blah, blah.” The captain pulled us all together…
JS: Tell me where you were and how the fire department came in.
PO: They’re right across the street from us. We were in our station. [Location] is here(motioning), and we have a police station and a fire station. They apparently just ran across—we were upstairs charging our radios about to come on. They came runnin’ up the fuckin’ stairs, hoopin’ and hollerin’ about…
JS: Were they in their uniforms and everything?
PO: They don’t really wear uniforms. They were like blue dickie pants. They have a casual uniform. So, the fire department said a levee broke. It was still sketchy and nobody knew the details behind it. At that point it was still “a levee,” and we didn’t know which one. They said, “The flood waters are rushin’ in. They’re sayin’ it’s gonna be fifteen feet—the whole city’s gonna be under water.” We were like, “Alright.”
JS: Did you believe ‘em?
PO: No! The Fire Department had already bugged out on us. They’re a bunch of gigantic pussies. We were like, “Just leave. You have no business in this thing.”
JS: What did they expect y’all to do?
PO: Leave too. We were like, “Alright, we’ve got a job to fuckin’ do.” So, anyway, the captain gets us together and he’s like, “Look, fuck those faggots across the street. We’re not gonna die, but we’re gonna work.” There was no water out in front of the station, so we were like, “Alright.” One of the guys that used to work for the night watch hangs out at this business that’s close to the Magnolia Housing Projects. He calls the station, and he’s like, “Look, there wasn’t water here yesterday, and now there’s water. We don’t know where the fuck it’s coming from, but it’s coming.” I don’t think he had heard about the levee breaking. Nobody knew where this water was coming from. It was still low. Throughout the day it kept creeping closer and closer to the station. The captain was like, “If anything, we’re gonna go to the Westbank, where it’s high and dry.”…So, he’s like, “We’re not gonna die, but if we do move, we’re gonna sit in Algiers for a night until they figure out what the fuck. They’re trying to repair it. They don’t know if they can. They’re doin’ something.” [The district captain] was holding it down. He was there for us. [PO’s district] is always together, but he made sure we stuck to what we were. He was like, “We’re not gonna die, we’re gonna get through this. We’re just gonna go to the West Bank for a little bit,” and we spent the night there.
JS: So, you spent the night on the Westbank?
PO: Right. In the morning, they still hadn’t fixed the levee.
JS: This might be Wednesday morning.
PO: Maybe. They realized they fucked it up so bad they couldn’t. Whatever they had done just made it worse. Whatever they did, they broke or destroyed more shit to the point that it couldn’t be salvaged. At what point, they said, “Ok, we have to let the lake level out with the city.” We were like, “That’s kinda wild.”
JS: When y’all were in Algiers, did y’all sleep in the same hotel?
PO: There was no hotel. I’m not sure how we got this church to sleep in. We may have commandeered it or we may have had someone in the district who was a patron there. We slept in the church parking lot. I slept on a pew inside, and we just kinda hung out by our cars the next day, at which point we took over McDonald’s to wash our clothes.
JS:(laughing) Wait, so y’all are woken up Wednesday morning, and y’all were told to wait around your cars until you get word?
PO: Right, we were just hangin’ out. We just kinda created our own city there, and we were just gonna stay there until the water decided to do whatever it was gonna do. It was either gonna even out, and we were gonna go back if we could. We had left people in the station, though, to make sure the moolies didn’t take it over.
JS: What was the feeling like between all those cops in the same place? What was the general consensus—was it one thing or another?
PO: We do what the captain tells us to.
JS: Were y’all talking about it then?
PO: I mean, you know, my partner and I were like, “This is kinda fucked up.” Not what he’s saying is fucked up, but what’s happening is fucked up. We were pissed off at the city because they just kinda left us at this point. We didn’t know if there was a government, but we damn sure knew they didn’t have anything for us. So, we made the trip to Wal-Mart, but we abandoned those supplies in the station when we left in a hurry. We hit up [a local pharmacy] for a little bit of food and McDonald’s for some bread.
JS: So, McDonald’s and [a local pharmacy] at this point, there’s nobody in them?
PO: No, they had already been broken into, but we took it over. We kicked the looters out. The funny part is—we kicked the looters out, and we pulled all the baby food, all the diapers, all the Similac shit like that—we pulled it all to the front and filled baskets with it. We let people come in and they could take—in an orderly fashion. We would give it away. They were as unprepared as the city was.
JS: These people were sorta looked down upon for going and taking things outta stores, but a lot of people were saying, “Well, of course they were gonna take things, they didn’t have anything. They need food…”
PO: Right, I had no problem with the food aspect of it. We were only kicking people’s asses who were taking TV’s and breaking into people’s houses. Stupid shit like that. As far as I was concerned—that’s as low as you can go. At a time of a disaster, you’re fuckin’ breakin’ into people’s houses and shit. We took it over and the least we could do is do it in an orderly fashion. Personally, I could care less about these fuckin’ people. We were doin’ it for the kids. We were like, “You can have supplies for the kids. You can have basic necessities. If you need soap, you can take a box of it.” It was really strange. You felt like…
JS: Like Santa Claus...
PO: Like Santa Claus and the fuckin’ Army all at one time because you claimed this and now you were tryin’ to dole it out to people who needed it, but stretch it. We were trying to make sure the kids would survive, ‘cause otherwise they’d die, ya know, with these fuckin’ parents. It was a very eerie feeling that we had to do that—A) that we had taken over a [local pharmacy] was strange, but we had to do it to survive.
JS: Didn’t you feel like there should have been some other governmental agency there to do the same thing?
PO: Right. We were like, “We should be saving people. We should be out pulling bodies out.”
JS: Y’all should have already had your supplies. Why did you have to take over [a local pharmacy]?
PO: Right. We knew why we were there. We just needed to know what the water was gonna do…We got hygiene products for us because we knew it was gonna be a while.
JS: This was after you had heard about the levee?
PO: We knew it had broken, but we didn’t know how much. And we didn’t know the entire destruction of the city. It was almost three days before we could start rescue operations full-time.
JS: So, Thursday.
PO: Possibly Thursday. The sad part about New Orleans is that in a city that floods that often, we have no boats. We may have 3 boats.
JS: For your district or the police department?
PO: For the whole police department. We have no boats. We have a dive team that might have one or two. So, we had personal people from our district bringing in their boats, jet-skis, shit like that so that—we were trying to find our policemen that didn’t make it that night. We were trying to find their house to go get them—they were stuck in their house.
JS: Did y’all have any policemen die because of that?
JS: Do you get upset that there wasn’t better planning, that the police didn’t have the resources they should have had?
PO: We’ve never had the resources. On a regular day when we go out on the street, we don’t have the resources to do our job effectively.
JS: So, it was no surprise.
PO: It was almost laughable because this was so typical.
JS: It was comedic.
PO: Right. It was like, “Fuck, why didn’t we see this coming? Well, of course…”
JS: Of course FEMA isn’t here.
PO: It wasn’t even FEMA. No, they have a New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness or some shit. We’ve seen the trucks. Nobody really knows what they do, and apparently they don’t do shit. There was no plan. But, meanwhile, we’re still listening to the radio. Our police radios could barely work as is, but now we’re on a mutual aid channel, which is ad-hoc. Normally one district or two districts will share one channel. But, all of our districts sharing this one channel and all the JP districts sharing the channel—it was constant.
JS: You probably couldn’t get a word in.
PO: Fuck no. But, meanwhile, our rank, our chiefs and shit—they’re arguing over the radio. They don’t even know where they’re going. They don’t even know what the plan is.
JS: Does the superintendent normally advise the captains what to do? What’s that chain of command?
PO: I don’t know ‘cause there doesn’t seem like there ever is one. Our captain said, you know when operation service first shit came out or whatever, you know you weren’t supposed to arrest people for this, the captain said, “Fuck that. We’re taking these bitches to jail.” So, even though the superintendent puts it out, if it’s stupid, our captain has the balls enough—he took over, ‘cause at this point we had been abandoned. There was no leadership, so [PO’s district] was like…
JS: You’re talking about governmental leadership.
PO: Right. We didn’t know where they were.
JS: The mayor was there, but it was like, “What are we supposed to do?” There was no communication.
PO: Right. We had no communication. The NOPD [PO’s district]—we were it. To us, we were it. If anybody else is there, that’s fine, but we’re gonna make sure we’re OK and we’re not losing our district. We fought hard for this bitch, we’re gonna keep fighting for this bitch. You’re a policeman, it’s in your blood or whatever. We need to do what we need to do. We need to protect businesses, we need to protect homes, and we need to try and get these people out—the people that want to be saved. The projects we were like, “Please flood.” Sometime between those two, though, they started shooting at us, and you didn’t feel safe at all, ever, because you knew it was just a matter of time because they knew they had no food and they knew we were commandeering the food. There was definitely no communication as far as, “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” All the agencies that we talked to that came down to help us, they sat for three days in a staging area waiting to find out what they wanted them to do. Nobody had a clue. People with boats were coming to volunteer and they just sat there for days without finding out.
JS: That’s where they’re gonna have to find out what went wrong. They were just saying on the news that they’re gonna do some sort of bicameral investigation—between the senate and the congress—to try and figure out exactly what went wrong.
PO: But, it wasn’t on a federal level that it went wrong, I don’t think.
JS: It might have been Blanco, though.
PO: It may have been, but the only people who can really roll out aid are the local agencies because you’re familiar with the area. They’re like, “Look, we’ve got fuckloads of people here, here, and here.” Because, ultimately, even though the government’ll send people in, they don’t know anything about where they are. So, we’ve still gotta be able to tell them.
JS: They’ve got a plan, but they’re in a new place, so they’re like, “Where do we go?”
JS: So, maybe that was the problem, that there still wasn’t any communication between the mayor…
PO: The governor and these agencies that wanted to help. So, they sat around for days not doin’ shit. And in fact…
JS: You knew about that, so that must have been very frustrating.
PO: We didn’t know about it until the agencies told us that. A couple of ‘em were just like, “Fuck it, we’re gonna take a chance. We’re just gonna drive to the city.” They could get in, and they found us. They found our little command post, and we just took ‘em in.
JS: When was this—Thursday or Friday?
PO: This might have been Wednesday—in between us movin’ ‘cause we moved from Algiers back to the [district] to [a department store], so that kinda happened fast, but at this point, agencies were starting to come in because they knew it was all fucked up. People wanted to volunteer with boats, but they’d never get sent anywhere because there was no plan to be like, “If we’ve got boats, let’s take ‘em here.” Not only that, but once there was a plan, or whatever it turned out to be on where to take the boats, there was no plan on where to take the people that you pulled out. I don’t fault the boat people because the boat people were there to pull people out the houses. Their job was to get them from the house to the side of the interstate at whatever point they launched at. From there there was no plan on how to get ‘em from the interstate to the dome—the dome wasn’t even accessible to us. It was under too much water.
JS: But, they told people to go to the dome. Was this before they told people to go to the dome?
PO: No, they told people to go to the dome originally, before the storm hit. At this point, we don’t think we can get to the dome to get these people out. I still have not met many people who were like, “Thanks, guys, for staying.” There have been people—white, definitely—we have yet to meet a black person who has commended us. “Thank you, you kept the city together, blah, blah, blah, thanks for picking me up on the side of the interstate. I know you’ve been up 48 hours.” None of that. It was all, “This is too cramped. Turn up the A/C.” We were like, “Get the fuck outta, here, lady. I don’t know where my family is, and I’m sure as hell not as worried about you as I am about them.” As this point, I couldn’t get in touch with my Dad, and I couldn’t get in touch with my Mom…As time went on, we knew the levee was just an Orleans Parish problem. We knew St. Bernard was destroyed and Plaquemines was destroyed. But, Orleans was bad, but apparently, the West you went, the better it got.
JS: Had you heard about the things that were going on at the Superdome at this point?
PO: We were getting reports. Not over the radios, but of people who had been there, like police, who had come out, who had gotten swapped out, maybe from the National Guard that we ran into. We were like, “Goddamn, it’s a fuckin’ war zone in there.”
JS: But, this was before the convention center, or had people already…
PO: No, that happened shortly after this.
JS: When they told people to go to the convention center?
PO: Right, when they realized that there was too much water in the city and it was gonna be a long time before it was habitable. There was no power, and you can’t really turn on power while there’s still water in the city. That’s not a good idea. The water’s toxic, and they realized we had nowhere for bodies—the bodies were just gonna be decomposing and shit. They realized the core infrastructure of the city was gone. And so Nagin at least had the sense to say, “Y’all need to get the fuck outta here.” So, it was in between Wednesday—early Wednesday and late Wednesday that they started telling people to go to the convention center, maybe.
JS: So, now you’ve got people at the Superdome and the convention center.
PO: Right, but all the people at the Superdome had to be evacuated to the convention center. And only the National Guard had—they sent us these fuckin’ pussy-ass National Guard motherfuckers who didn’t want to do anything. They had these big trucks that could drive through the water, but they didn’t wanna do shit.
PO: I don’t know. It was hard as fuck to get ‘em to take you here to here, to do anything. We had a guy who was shot, who we’d prefer was dead because he was a fuckin’ looter and a looter shot him, and we’re trying to take him to the hospital—our cars can’t get to Charity because it was too deep. The National Guard’s like, “Uhhhh.” It was a big clusterfuck to even—so we had to take him in our car, get the car stuck, and then the National Guard to come pick us up out the car and drop the guy off.
JS: You actually did that once?
JS: That’s crazy.
JS: The logic is like…
PO: It was bizarre, and when we got him to Charity, Charity wasn’t equipped enough—they were so fucked up that they couldn’t operate, so we had to try to get the National Guard to go pick the guy up and drive him to West Jeff, where they were gonna do surgery on him, which I don’t even know if we pulled that off, but that was a clusterfuck because there was no communication because I can’t just call a National Guardsman because they don’t have radios. So, we had to communicate with somebody that was able to communicate with a National Guardsman.
JS: How’d you do that with the radio being so tied up?
PO: Very, very slowly. You could ask somebody to do it, and then you just wouldn’t hear back from them for a while. And then you’d call back and you could get your answer, whether it was no or yes. We knew EMS wasn’t coming. At one point, somebody had flagged us down—there was an old folks home—they had been dehydrated, they didn’t have much food, medicine, whatever, so we were trying to unload ‘em. At least one or two of them died, literally, while we were moving them to the car. And the others we were like, “They’re gonna die as soon as we drop them off. Fuck, they might even die on the way over there, they were so fucked up.” So, there’s that destruction. We had a couple bodies laying on the ground…
JS: So, you just had to leave the people at the nursing home?
PO: No, we took ‘em to West Jeff, I believe, but we didn’t know—at that point, we were just happy we got ‘em out, no matter what happened.
JS: Where was this nursing home? Were you patrolling the whole city at this point…
PO: We were trying to stay in [PO’s district]. We were going a little into the second and a little into the eighth, but [PO’s captain] didn’t want us to have to go to the convention center because we have a lot of the good police in the city. And, if the chiefs knew we were available, they would have sent us to the convention center. Because we would have had that shit on lockdown. Fuck all that armored shit. We would have been shooting at ‘em the first fuckin’ day. Our hands were tied because if we got tied up there, we might never get fed. If you went to the convention center, you might never get to leave. And, then you might not know when you’re gonna get to eat. He was lookin’ out for us, sayin’ “You’re not goin’ there. Fuck that. That’s their problem, blah, blah, blah.” Which is fine. We appreciated him looking out for us, but(pause)
JS: But, does a part of you wish you had gone, that maybe y’all could have done something?
PO: We thought we could have taken control of it. There would have been a lot of fuckin’ casualty to it. Hopefully, not on our part, but I think we could have stepped in. It was the best idea that we didn’t go, but we still coulda kicked a lotta ass had they pulled a bunch of the really good guys from [Po’s district], maybe SWAT. From what I understand, there were no police in there.
JS: Have you seen the images of the convention center, of people sitting outside?
PO: No, no, no, we drove through it. I have pictures of it. I don’t have pictures of the people. I have pictures of the aftermath. We drove through it a couple times, but you couldn’t get close. I’m sure they were shooting at us. You heard gunfire all the time. They chased stolen cars all day long that were just driving around shooting at people and shit—us and what not.
JS: Were you numbed by it, at that point, the weirdness? Because I remember watching on TV and other people were saying, too, “I can’t believe this is happening in an American city where you just have people outside and they’re waiting and nothing’s happening.”
PO: You couldn’t even stop to think about it. What happens is that you switch to survival mode. We’re like, “We’re gonna fuckin’ make it outta this motherfucker. We don’t know about them, but we’re makin’ it outta this bitch alive.” We knew we needed to get food, we needed to get water, and we needed to protect our ass. But, we still needed to protect the city…I don’t fault ‘em in taking so long to get people out ‘cause that’s a huge fucking undertaking. How do you coordinate that? At first, they were gonna bus ‘em all out. But, then I think they realized the numbers were too big for them to really do that. We were still waiting for the Army, that was supposedly gonna bring in these helicopters and do a lot of it. But, then again, there was no communication. We were the last to know about anything. A lot of times you didn’t even get approval, you just went ahead and did it. It’s gonna ‘cause a lot less trouble. They can scold you later. Our hands were really tied. The fuckin’ asshole people in the city don’t like us anyway because we take their families to jail because that’s where they need to be. They pull a race card on everything. Bein’ a white cop in poor areas—they don’t like you just because you’re white. They’re coming to us, “I need feed and water.” And I’d have to tell them, “I don’t have food and water to give you.” I was like, “I don’t have food and water.” I had to commandeer it. I was like, “I don’t have food and water, lady, how am I supposed to give you food and water?” And they’re like, “Fuck you, what the fuck are you good for?” And I’m like, “What the fuck are you good for? What the fuck did you do to plan for this motherfucker? I planned that I was gonna be here.”
JS: So, everyone was angry. It makes sense. They’re on the edge and they’re angry, and you’re on the edge and you’re angry.
PO: No, I don’t justify that. You can’t pawn it off on them being angry ‘cause they tried that and that’s bullshit.
JS: So, you just think that they should have acted better than that.
PO: Not only that. You’re in charge of saving your own life. I’m in charge of making sure that I’m here to work. They put the city in our hands. The mentality is that someone is gonna be there to bail them out like someone has their entire life. “Where’s the check on the 1st? Where’s the check on the 30th?” All that shit. Where’s my money? Where’s my food? And that’s what they were looking for. They were looking for handouts. I didn’t have ‘em, and at that point, they got even more pissed off at us, and that’s when the violence escalated.
JS: What day was this?
PO: Close to maybe Friday.
JS: Were you still able to drive around the city in your car, at this point?
PO: A little bit of it. We had maybe a quarter of our district that we could control.
JS: Were you in shorts at this point?
PO: No, but we were runnin’ outta clothes. They were dirty. My shoes were wet.
JS: So, if you couldn’t get somewhere in the city, you just jumped out…
PO: No. We just said, “Fuck it.” It wasn’t worth leaving the security ‘cause we couldn’t risk it going in there where maybe they had barricaded themselves up ‘cause at this point we knew they had stolen guns from everywhere. We knew that A) They were pissed ‘cause we didn’t have food for ‘em, and they used that as…
JS: So, you’re saying that that was a turning point, when the people found out that the police didn’t have food and that they didn’t know what was going on?
PO: I don’t know if it was that. I think they realized that the shit was way worse than they thought it was gonna be, they didn’t have power, and they’re weren’t gonna have it for a long time. And, they had no food. And, that’s when I think they reverted to their animal instincts.
PO: At some point they realized it was worse than they thought it was and that no one was coming to bail them out. That’s when it turned into a war.
JS: Tell me some of the things that happened.
PO: We were just driving and you’d just hear gunshots, and they sounded damn close. You could never really find out where they were. We chased stolen cars all the time.
JS: Because it was dark?
PO: There was no light in the city. Not only that, but you could hide in any fuckin’ building. There was like no life in the city so there was nobody to react to where it was coming from like we normally can. When gunshots come out, whoever’s closest to it is gonna run. There was none of that. There were stolen cars run into walls, abandoned in the middle of the street, all the windows broken out. It looked like fuckin’ war at this point. There were eighteen wheelers drivin’ around that you knew were stolen, and if you had the nuts to do it, you could get out and take that motherfucker back. We were still attempting to do what we knew to do as police. We recovered tons of fuckin’ stolen cars. Me and my partner and a couple of other people had a shoot-out at a limo place.
JS: Tell me about that.
PO: We were driving down the street—we were escorting a state trooper who was escorting—in order for any supplies to come into us, it had to be escorted. If it was possible, they were carjacking everything. They carjacked water bottle trucks and shit, which we stole back ‘cause we needed the water. We carjacked it back from the fuckin’ carjackers. They were bringing in a big generator for a Cingular tower, and we were trying to show the state police where to bring ‘em, so one of our units flagged us down and he’s like, “Look, a fuckin’ stolen vehicle just ran outta here and shot at me a few times, but I think it’s all over.” We were like, “Alright, fuck it.” We were hangin’ around. We drove off, and the call came out again. We go over there, we get out the fuckin’ car, we’re walkin’ around, and all of a sudden you hear a shotgun—“BOOM!” I don’t know if you’ve heard a shotgun go off.
JS: Not close.
PO: You can tell—long gun, pistol, rifle, shotgun. Shotgun has a deep blast. Windows start shattering and shit, so we’re like, “OK, they’re fuckin’shootin’ at us. This is a fuckin’ shoot-out.” We’re tryin’ to call it in over the radio. We got in the radio, and while we’re trying to work it, trying to figure out where these people are, who apparently don’t care if we live or die, the chiefs and shit are cuttin’ over us, talkin’ about, “Let’s evacuate.” Are you fuckin’ serious?
JS: So, you’re trying to put in this call…
PO: No, the call’s already in. They know we’re in a shoot-out. They know we’re in an active shoot-out with at least one person with a fuckin’ shotgun and another person who’s already shot at us with a fuckin’ machine gun and now all you’re fuckin’ worried about is evacuating these fuckin’ animals? Are you serious? So, that’s when you know you’re priorities are fucked up.
JS: Did you lose more hope when you heard that?
PO: No, I just lost all respect for everybody who runs this fuckin’ place because you know at this point, they’re not worried about you, they’re worried about how they look to the people. But, that’s not what police are for. Police shouldn’t always be worried about our image. Ok, your image, yeah, but what do they think of us? Of course they don’t like us, they’re fuckin’ criminals. How can you run a police department that caters to criminals? I don’t understand that. Apparently they do, but it doesn’t work well, so we knew at this point that we were definitely alone.
JS: So no one is coming for you.
PO: Our units rolled on it.
JS: And up to that point you were able to get back-up for anything that happened?
PO: Only your units are comin’. If they’re not in your district, chances are they’re not comin’.
JS: OK, go back to the story and tell me what happened.
PO: We managed to make entry. We caught two of the guys, but neither of them had the shotgun. So, we don’t know if it was one of them and they just ditched the gun. And, we think there was another. We’re pretty sure there were three people involved. So, we beat the piss outta them. We didn’t have time to sit down and do the paperwork that normally goes along with that, so we just basically beat the shit outta them and ran them up the street. “Don’t ever fuckin’ shoot at the police again or you’re gonna die. If I could’ve, I would’ve killed you.”
JS: At that point, where you have such lawlessness going on, are you trained for this--cause normally you think, "Ok, this person tried to kill me. It wouldn't be that difficult for me to kill them."
PO: No, and it's not difficult.
JS: But, at this point of lawlessness, was it easier for you to even think about killing a person like that and not letting them go?
PO: At this point--the problem we run into a lot is that even on good shootings, when there is no emergency, our police department is not behind us. Our commander's gonna be behind us, but our chief is gonna be like, "Well, we're gonna investigate it and pull 'em off the street" and all this bullshit. They're very weary, so you want to do the most you can to not resort to that. A, because you're gonna have to live with it, which I can, because if it's my life or your life, it's my life. You know you're gonna be alone, and everyone in the NOPD knows that, so you're very weary of that. If they even pointed a fuckin' pencil at us that we could have perceived as a gun, we would have fuckin' shot 'em. Anyway, we lost the other guy because we didn't mobilize fast enough to create a really good perimeter...At some point, the mayor's like, "Everybody's gotta get the fuck outta this place for at least months 'cause this shit's fucked." You know? So, they kinda had boats. Wildlife and Fisheries came down, and they had a buncha boats.They were pulling people out and they were putting them on the interstate but we didn't have enough--we were drained. We were outgunned, outnumbered, outeverything. And, we were hopeless almost...We had to make sure that we could sleep. You didn't do much of it--an hour, two hours, whatever you could get.
JS: At one point you said you kicked the bums off Lee Circle?
PO: Yeah. We were working--it was a couple of blocks off Lee Circle--we were working that corner. We were fuckin' kickin'--we were sleepin' on the sidewalk. While we were guardin' the corner, we'd rotate. One person would guard the corner, two people would guard the corner. We'd try to sleep on the fuckin' concrete. We were laughing about it. We used to run the bums off. Now we're running the bums off because we want the fuckin' spot to sleep on. We were like, "We're fucked."
JS: When it gets to that point...
PO: We were like, "Goddamn."
JS: How did y'all keep your spirits up?
PO: We joke a lot. We work with these people all the time, though, and you start to...
JS: Inside jokes and stuff?
PO: We have a lot of those...me and my partner--all we do is joke. Our parents coulda died, and we'd still be joking, 'cause that's how you do it. You can't take it seriously. You know what they've been through, they know what you've been through. And you know what the life is on the street. I haven't done it for thrity fuckin' years--I'm sure it only gets worse. At no point can you ever leave and other than police ever really understand you.
JS: Talk about some of the death that you saw.
PO: A lot of the people who were getting pulled out of the houses were getting put on the side of the interstate and there weren't enough people--coordination or whatever--to get 'em from where they were dropped off to where they needed to go. There were bodies on the interstate. There were mass hordes of people walkin' on the side of the interstate. But, by that same thing, you could barely drive on the side of the interstate for fear that they would steal your fuckin' car 'cause they were carjacking left and right. They were pulling people out of their car to take the motherfucker to the Westbank, which was like the promised land because there was no water. There was no standing water and they still had running water.
JS: So, were there people walking across the bridge?
PO: Fuck, yeah. I applaud JP for doing it. They said, "No people from Orleans are coming into Jefferson," and there was not much looting that happened. They held order. We had no order. They didn't want our people. We were just trying to get 'em somewhere else. There were people in our district that were dead--laying on the side of the road. You knew there were old people and crackheads that were living in a house that you hadn't seen in a while, and you knew they were probably in the house, but you didn't wanna go in the house 'cause you had nothing to do with 'em. If we found' em, where were we gonna put 'em--on the street where everyone else was? You couldn't get away from it. You'd drive a couple blocks and find a dead person. I talked to people who were doing the rescue operations. They said, "While you were driving the boat, you'd see a body or two float by." They couldn't do anything, so they were tying them to telephone poles so that eventually they could find them. Otherwise, they'd just float around.
JS: At any point, did this get you down?
PO: We knew it wasn't worth--there was nothing that you could change about it. You just couldn't bother yourself with it. It did bother me that two people apparently ate the bullet(the two police officers that killed themselves), but there was nothing you could do to change it...we were siphoning gas outta parked cars to keep our police cars rollin'...they finally declared real martial law. The army was gonna come in and take over the city and police the bitch. At this point, they were talking, "Alright, supposedly in one or two weeks, y'all are gonna get a break. Write down where your family is, and if you don't have family, we'll go to Las Vegas. Write it down--you're there." The next morning we woke up, that shit had completely changed. Then it was basically, "We'll bus you to Baton Rouge. You've gotta talk to a shrink and take a physical. And you get a $200 check. See ya." No Vegas, no nothing, just, "See ya." Everybody said, "Fuck the shrink."
JS: How many people said, "Fuck the shrink"?
PO: A whole bunch.
JS: When all this was going down, were you just operating more off of morals and values since your normal operating procedure was out the window?
PO: It wasn't that. You were trying to enforce the law. We knew the essential laws that we had to enforce. You had to dole out punishments and ran 'em off on their way.
JS: So, most of the people in your district said, "Screw that, we're not going to Baton Rouge."
PO: We were like, "Are you fuckin' serious? Two hundred bucks to go see a fuckin' shrink?"
JS: What did they say to that?
PO: We were like, "Fuck it. They can't make us go see this bitch." So were just like, "We're not going to see the motherfucker."
JS: So, the reason they wanted you to see the shrink--was that because of the two suicides?
PO: I have no clue. Possibly linked to it, related to it--I don't know.
JS: When y'all heard about the suicides...
PO: The guy--Acardo--we didn't hear about the other one 'till later even though it had happened before. Acardo, he had been walking around. We had even made a joke, "Ha, that motherfucker's gonna kill himself."
JS: How was he acting?
PO: He was walking around, looking at the ground the whole time. He kinda moped. He was just like, "How do you fix this? How do you rebuild" and all this bullshit. I was like, "Dude, why are you beatin' yourself up over it if you can't do nothin' about it?"
JS: Did the suicide change things for y'all?
PO: Not really. We just knew that you couldn't think too far into it.
JS: Yeah, but was this just sorta like, "This is even more fucked up than we thought. People are killing themselves."
PO: Definetely that. We had people bailin' on us, not showin' up.
JS: What's your opinion about...
PO: They're deserters. When you desert the Army--what you got hired to do and what you said you wanted to do is not what you wanted to do. But, that's the whole fuckin' problem with the police department to begin with. We're understaffed, so they lowered the hiring standards. So, you now got all these dickheads who think they can show up every day and just get a job, get a paycheck, and write a couple traffic accidents? Those people don't even write shit. They duck calls all day. Basically, they just burn gas.
JS: So, you think that was the majority of people that left?
PO: Yeah. probably. It was a combination of that and people that were worried more about their families than the department, which is understandable but not excusable. If you said you were gonna do it, do it. How can you live with deserting your fellow brothers?
JS: So, you're understaffed anyway, and add to that the deserters. Is there a feeling right now about the future of the police department and how y'all are gonna cope?
PO: We laugh about it all the time. We're like, "What are we gonna do? We have no police. We had none before."...At this point(the time of the interview), we have no infrastructure. They're not like, [PO's distirct] is gonna do this, you're gonna do this."
JS: So, there's no plan.
PO: Plan, we've got chiefs, but we never get orders. It's weird. There's a lot of down time. We're trying to figure out what the fuck we're supposed to be doing. How can we maximize our effectiveness. You also have the Army here, so what are we doin' here if the Army's here? What's the Army doing? They need to figure out what our role is gonna be, and hopefully they'll know when I get back.
PO: Do you have expectations for when you get back, as far as how things are gonna be?
JS: No. You can't have expectations, not with the New Orleans Police Department.
JS: How come?
PO: Cause' it's a fly-by-night operation. You could leave on a Friday night and come back on a Saturday afternoon, and they'd be like, "Why are you wearing that uniform? We changed the uniforms."
JS: They don't tell you.
PS: Right. I'm not saying it's happened, but it would never surprise me. You could come back one day and we might be driving black police cars.
JS: They don't brief you?
PO: Fuck no.
JS: Did y'all hear about Ray Nagin's interview?
PO: Where he cursed out the President? We heard about it and we were like, "Fuckin' right." Black officers don't like Nagin, and a lot of white officers do.
JS: Why is that?
PO: Maybe they think he's more white than he is black and that he looks out for the white people more. As far am I concerned, you can be poverty stricken and a productive member of society, or you can be poverty stricken and be an unproductive member of society. You need to worry about productive members of society. That's what a city is worried about, not playing taxi drivers to crackheads. Get the fuck outta here. A lot of the black police that we hired--we have a lot of good ones. I'm friends with a bunch of 'em. And then we have a lot of 'em that are worthless pieces of shit. You're like, "What the fuck are you doing here?" They don't do anything because they hang out with the people they grew up with. They'll drive around, and they'll go hang out with people they grew up with in the projects.
JS: I guess a little bit of you is still disappointed after coming into the department concerning the absence of professionalism.
PO: It does lack a lot of it. We're still known for kickin' ass. We're still known for our crowd control. All that is true. We don't have riots.We have lots of murders that we can't do anything about. I've sat outside a bar before and they shot inside while we were outside. That's how wild it is. They don't worry about us. They know we'll take 'em to jail, but only for a little while. They can bond out that night.
JS: Talk about the Houma policemen.
PO: We were working the checkpoint--the front gate--we were only letting[Po's district] district police in. And, they(Houma police) pull up, and they're like, "Dude, come over here." This was the first agency that we had seen, so this was earlier in the week. Maybe Wednesday or Thursday. They're all tacked out, full SWAT gear. We're like, "Fuckin' A bitchin', dude." I had my shotgun. My partner had his M4. The department doesn't provide you with that, but if you had it, you knew you wanted it, so I made a special trip to my house to go get that bitch. At this point, all bets were off, and you knew you needed heavy machinery. They(the criminals) have machine guns on a regular basis. We know now that there's a bunch of 'em. So, the Houma police is like, "Dude, we brought you some food." It wasn't much, but it was the thought that counted. They got together whatever they could. They brought us some MRE's, some bottled water, and some ammunition. They were like, "What are y'all runnin' low on?" We were like, "This, this and this," and they fuckin' dropped it off to us. They said, "Our department doesn't know we're here. It's our days off, but we're all brothers. It's all thin blue line, dude." My favorite police department besides Houma that I met are a couple constables from a city in Texas that escapes me now. They hung out with us for three or four days. We lived with these guys. They brought us tents. They brought us an A/C power inverter so we could run fans in the parking loats. They brought us water, undershirts, and shit. Most importantly, they brought us 300 McDonald's cheeseburgers. It wasn't real food, but it felt normal, like pre-Katrina shit. It gave you energy.
JS: Somebody cares.
PO: Somebody cares. They're still here. We know other police departments care about us. We know ours doesn't, but we know other ones do. I speak for everyone in the police department, and everyone in my district, I'm sure. We appreciate every fuckin' police department that came down to help because it made a difference. Even if they just rode around and made extra police on the street, that was awesome. But, we were like, "Wow. Someone else is here to help. We're not as undermanned as we were before."
JS: Talk about you feel watching this stuff on TV and being out of the city looking in, now. Are you looking forward to going back, in a way, or not?
PO: I wanna go back, as much as I hate the city, honestly. There's so much to hate about the city, but there's so much to love about it. You're like, "Man, what the fuck is wrong with this place?" But, you put your life on the line. You would die for that city, so I think I'd want to go back and put it back together.Honestly, I'm not looking forward to going back and living in those conditions. Who the fuck would be? Even the police can only speculate as to what the city's gonna be like when this is over. All these evacuees, they're like, "We're not comin' back. We're tired of y'all." We're tired of them, too, but if they don't come back, who is gonna come back? Is it gonna be a white city now? 'Cause I know before whites were the minority.