NYPD Returns a Favor to Louisiana

After Sept. 11, people from Louisiana traveled to New York to help. Now, the NYPD has returned the favor, patrolling the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Debbie Elliott talks with NYPD Inspector Tom Graham about his experience working in both crises.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the New York Police Department told its officers to be ready for deployment to the Gulf Coast. Nearly 300 members of the NYPD are now patrolling neighborhoods around New Orleans. One of them is Inspector Tom Graham(ph), who worked at ground zero after the 9/11 attacks. He's now at a command post in Harahan, Louisiana.

Hello, Inspector Graham.

Inspector TOM GRAHAM (Disorder Control Unit, New York Police Department): Hi.

ELLIOTT: Did I hear a story that some of that people from that area had actually been up in New York working after 9/11?

Insp. GRAHAM: Well, there was the Gumbo Crew--Right?--which is a group of people that got together down here and made shrimp gumbo on the streets of New York on September 12th and fed us for, I guess, another week or two. In fact, one of them, Mike Salgout(ph)--his house is in one of the areas we're patrolling. I'd love to say hello to him.

ELLIOTT: Did you have sympathy for these people, thinking about what they had come and done for you all?

Insp. GRAHAM: It's hard not to have sympathy for these folks, but I know that these folks were up to take care of us, as well as the rest of the nation took care of us. And I think that, you know, we have to help them out when they're in times of peril.

ELLIOTT: You're a member of the NYPD Disorder Control Unit. What's your mission there.

Insp. GRAHAM: Well, our mission here is to just supplement the officers that are currently on patrol to give them a little bit of a breathing space, take some routine tasks away from them. We're patrolling the French Quarter downtown, so there's on New Orleans cops having to work in the daytime in the French Quarter, this area. We do what we're asked to do.

ELLIOTT: What do you think the survivors of Hurricane Katrina need most right now from people like you and others who have flocked to the region to help out?

Insp. GRAHAM: I think they need a sense of safety. They need a lot of infrastructure repair, but that's ongoing. In this area that we're in right now, Jefferson parish is 470 square miles of lower-middle-class, middle-class and upper-middle-class people that own homes, and they're worried about their homes. It ain't a sense of, `My home will be there intact when I get back.'

ELLIOTT: What are you seeing happening there on the ground? Are most of the people gone, and are the properties safe?

Insp. GRAHAM: The properties are safe. There's a lot of residents trickling in. They're not--it's not a forced evacuation out here--All right?--though it's difficult for you to get back in if you leave the area. And there's not a lot of services, and I think that's why the Parish president put the evacuation order in place--is that there's not enough gas, water, ice and food here, there's no businesses open to support a large population. So there's a few residents that have trickled back in, and there's a few people that are trying to take advantage of it. There was a couple of looters--or possible looters we grabbed both in Westwego and in Harahan last night, but there has been no breaks that we know of in this area.

ELLIOTT: Where do you take people like that? I'm guessing that a lot of the infrastructure, like jails and whatnot, are gone.

Insp. GRAHAM: Well, I've been told that they've re-established the jail downtown. In a lot of cases, they've just removed people physically from the Parish and identified them well enough that if, you know, crimes are reported in the general area that they were seen in, they could be investigated later. They're only trying to handle occurring crimes--you know, if crimes are in progress.

ELLIOTT: Well, have you had any other trouble, other than potential looters?

Insp. GRAHAM: What was it? Thursday a couple of our officers on foot patrol in New Orleans, they heard some noise from a padlocked, one-story structure. And it had happened that two people had lived there and had, you know, kind of gone through the storm in their home, and then they heard the shots and the looting and the chaos; this is going back two weeks ago. So then what they did was they padlocked their front door with a chain, and then they lost the padlock--they lost the key to the padlock. And we had to break into the house, get them out. They were severely dehydrated. They were taken to some medical care up at the Superdome, and they seemed to be OK as my officers left.

ELLIOTT: How is this mission different from your work in New York after 9/11?

Insp. GRAHAM: We had had a terrorist attack. Almost immediately thereafter we had secondary threats that became very, very imminent. Right after 9/11, we had a World Series, and we had to ratchet up security at Yankee Stadium because we were frightened of another attack. These attacks sometimes come in twos and threes. So the difference here to there is here, as things get calmer, everybody kind of relaxes; in New York City, we have not relaxed since 9/11 as far as trying to prevent terrorism.

ELLIOTT: How have you been received by the local officers there?

Insp. GRAHAM: Very, very warmly. They're very happy to have us here. They're thrilled that NYPD has come down. They feel it's a big morale lift to them to have NYPD here, all right? The residents have been very good to us. The guys in my truck, the communications vehicle--there's a woman in a neighborhood brings them breakfast every morning. Yesterday she was upset they didn't eat all the French toast. And if you want a real side bit, Louisianans have this thing that when they're under stress, they eat gumbo.

ELLIOTT: Have you been having a little gumbo yourself while you're there?

Insp. GRAHAM: First two days, I think our diet was shrimp and Krispy Kreme. And then I finally had to say to our benefactors here, `If you could find us some red meat or some chicken'--so yesterday they got steaks and chicken for us.

ELLIOTT: Have you had the chicken and okra gumbo?

Insp. GRAHAM: No, I have not.

ELLIOTT: Not yet? OK.

Insp. GRAHAM: Not yet (laughs). I'm sure before I leave I will.

ELLIOTT: Inspector Tom Graham is with other members of the NYPD Disorder Control Unit in Harahan, Louisiana.

Thanks for taking the time to talk.

Insp. GRAHAM: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

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