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N.O. Police Department's spokesman among two officer suicides, many others quit

Officer Down: Paul Accardo and Lawrence Celestine - [New Orleans, Louisiana]

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- There may be no better way to explain the desperation on the city's ravaged streets than this: In the past few days, two police officers took their lives with their own weapons and dozens have turned in their badges.

New Orleans' thin blue line is frayed at the edges. Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley on Sunday identified two officers who committed suicide as Sgt. Paul Accardo, the department's spokesman, and Patrolman Lawrence Celestine. He called both ''outstanding cops'' and friends. Asked how they died, Riley put a finger to his temple, then paused. ''Both of them,'' he said, shaking his head slowly. ''Used their own guns.''

Several dozen of the city's 1,600 police officers have failed to report for duty, and some have turned in their badges. Published reports put the number as high as 200, but Riley declined to comment on those figures, saying more than 100 officers may have been trapped in their own homes or unable to reach command centers. ''We just don't know,'' he said, standing outside a downtown command center set up in the driveway of Harrah's casino. But a moment later, Riley motioned back in the direction where several dozen heavily armed officers milled around, eating and smoking. He said he didn't care -- not at the moment. "'We still have at least a thousand policemen out here trying to rescue people and take back the city. I don't know what's in their minds. I don't know what gives the others out here their adrenaline, what gives them their push.''

On top of the burdens of law enforcement, officers have had to forage for food and water and even for places to relieve themselves. ''Our officers have been urinating and defecating in the basement of Harrah's Casino,'' Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said last week. ''They have been going in stores to feed themselves.''

They also have had to deal with personal losses. ''What's affected most of our officers is they don't know where their wives or kids are. They don't have homes ... they don't have anything,'' Riley said. That sentiment was echoed by Capt. Kevin Anderson, commander of the Eighth District, which includes the fabled French Quarter. ''It hurts to the heart, but I don't have the luxury of dwelling on who's not here. ''We'll welcome them back with open arms maybe someday. But that day ain't today.''

Exhaustion was evident in the officers' faces and even their dress. Many were wearing T-shirts and blue jeans brought in by fellow officers. ''We're having to find clothes for some,'' Riley said. ''The only reason I'm dressed in a uniform is that I didn't lose my house.'' Some police who remained on the job expressed outrage that some of their fellow officers abandoned the city when it most needed law and order. ''This is our area,'' said one officer, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because he feared retribution from commanders. ''I was raised in this town. I'm not giving this city up. Police are turning in their badges and running away.''

Officers also have struggled with the emotional impact of the devastation. ''The most stressing part is seeing the citizens we serve every day being treated like refugees,'' Riley said. ''There were cops walking through the crowd at the convention center and people were coming up to beg for food.

Not being able to help is a difficult thing. People were calling our names because we know them and to not be able to help, man, that's stressful.'' Riley told of one officer who tried to rescue an elderly woman from an attic but could not reach the window from his boat. Another rescued a man who had punched a hole in the roof of his house to escape but the man lost his daughter in the swirling floodwaters. ''Imagine what that does to somebody,'' he said. ''And I'm sure when the 911 tapes come out, there'll be stories more horrific than that.''

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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