A Day In The Life Of A New Orleans Police Officer Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department was a mess. Reports of officers deserting, even looting, were rampant. Five years later, 16 officers now face federal charges ranging from murder to corruption to cover-ups -- mostly from incidents that took place just after the storm. NPR's Audie Cornish rides along with Sherife Davis. She first met him two years ago, when he was a rookie cop.
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A Day In The Life Of A New Orleans Police Officer

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A Day In The Life Of A New Orleans Police Officer

A Day In The Life Of A New Orleans Police Officer

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One thing New Orleans is still trying to overcome is the blistered reputation of the city's police department. After Hurricane Katrina, the NOPD was infamous for the officers who deserted their posts or were caught looting during the crisis. And in the following months, officers were fired, poached by other cities or retired.

This is what Sherife Davis of Jacksonville, Florida was walking into on his first day of training at the New Orleans Police Academy. We met back in 2008. He was a cocky Air Force veteran looking to make good in his dad's hometown. No ticket writing for me, he said.

Mr. SHERIFE DAVIS (New Orleans Police Department): This city is no worse than Afghanistan or Pakistan, Iraq. So I look to coast right on in, and hopefully they won't kill me in the academy.

CORNISH: That was after a day of push-ups, laps and screaming training sergeants. Half the people who showed up quit within the first hour, but not Davis.

Mr. DAVIS: I am Officer Davis from the 1st District New Orleans Police Department.

CORNISH: Two years later, Davis is a proud officer, though it can be tough to be proud of the department right now. This past spring, city leaders called in federal investigators to examine allegations of misconduct.

No fewer than 16 officers now face allegations of federal crimes, ranging from murder to corruption to cover-ups, mostly from incidents that took place just after the storm.

When I visited Sherife Davis again, he agreed to take us along his beat to talk about what it's like for an NOPD rookie.

Mr. DAVIS: Right now, I've got to check out our vehicle, make sure everything is running right. That's why we check. See? I have a dead battery. Outstanding.

CORNISH: His squad car battery dead, Officer Davis pulls out a cigarette and waits for another officer for a jump start. But in no time, we're off to patrol a rough, ramshackle stretch of half-empty buildings just blocks from the French Quarter.

So tell us what neighborhood we're going to be going to.

Mr. DAVIS: We're going to the Iberville Housing Development.

CORNISH: Was this your first assignment after the academy?

Mr. DAVIS: Actually, it was. I did half of my training here. So it just worked out that I kind of knew what was going on back here. So they assigned me back here, which I wanted to come.

CORNISH: Why would you want this as your first assignment?

Mr. DAVIS: Well, I like the action. Plus, you get to know the people back here. So even the ones you put in jail, they eventually get out, and they come back, and there's a respect built.

Unidentified Woman: 10-1(ph), it's a 3862.

Mr. DAVIS: How are you doing, Tammy(ph)?

TAMMY: I'm doing fine. I'm exercising.

Mr. DAVIS: You're exercising?

TAMMY: Yeah. (Unintelligible).

Mr. DAVIS: All right. You got your hair done, huh?

TAMMY: Yeah. I got my (unintelligible).

Mr. DAVIS: Oh, you did?

TAMMY: Yeah. (Unintelligible).

Mr. DAVIS: Oh, okay. That's Ms. Tammy, and we've dealt with her at least 20 times. She's swung on me, spit at me. We'll probably get a call about her later on because she used to live back here. And the problem is she, I guess, doesn't really realize that she doesn't live here anymore. So she'll try to go in other people's house as if it's hers, and of course, then they call the police, and she'll take off running.

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) it's a 3862.

Mr. DAVIS: Two weeks ago, (unintelligible) around here. She happens to be involved in narcotics. For some reason, her and another user got into an argument. Well, quick as I could let my partner know, other female pulls out a knife and starts stabbing her. So she got stabbed about four times.

CORNISH: The woman we just saw walking down the street?

Mr. DAVIS: Yeah, with the boxers in her hand. She got stabbed about four times about two weeks ago.

CORNISH: You once said that you didn't think it could be any worse than Afghanistan or Iraq, and I'm wondering, now that you're actually doing the job, if you still feel that way?

Mr. DAVIS: I would say - I would have to give it about an equal now. In New Orleans, there's a culture where they actually sit and wait to commit a murder. I mean, it's more than I thought it was going to be as far as - everybody, every city has shootings, but in New Orleans, they're good at it. They actually hunt down their victims, literally.

I've had a shooting back here where a guy got shot 48 times, and then they ran him over. So to say that it's worse than Afghanistan, I wouldn't say it's worse, but it's - it can be just the same.

CORNISH: How is it then, for you, though, actually patrolling? I mean, are you better or...

Mr. DAVIS: Oh, yeah.

CORNISH: ...worse equipped than you were with the Air Force?

Mr. DAVIS: Well...

CORNISH: I mean, this morning, with the car not even having a fresh battery...

Mr. DAVIS: It's going to be - that's a good point. That's a very good point. Every police officer can't ride around with a rifle, AR-15 like the military. It doesn't matter where you go. We always have handguns compared to rifles.

These guys out here, they shoot with AK-47s most of the time. It's the weapon of choice in New Orleans. And we don't have that.

CORNISH: Compared to the last time we talked, and you were so excited about starting out, the image of the department actually got worse over time.

Mr. DAVIS: Yeah, definitely. The thing is, though, most of the officers you see on the street are new. They're from after Katrina. And all the things that are going on, just about 98 percent of them are officers who were here before Katrina or, you know, during Katrina.

Now, we have another monkey on our back where we have to handle criminals, period. You know, they run from us, they shoot at us, they do whatever. We have to handle them. And it's going to cause a problem because you can't have officers, you know, stepping on eggshells trying to do their job and at the same time worried about getting suspended and getting fired or going to jail.

All the police officers back here, the majority of them, are doing what they're supposed to do. And like I said, most of them are new.

CORNISH: Does it make it hard for you to do your job, though? I mean, in terms of dealing with the community, do people trust you?

Mr. DAVIS: Well, we work back here, which is kind of good because they know us. We deal with them on a regular basis. However, when we go and arrest so and so over here, it's very common for 30 people to come outside and want to watch us arrest somebody or whatever.

And even if that person's fighting and we have to tase them or whatever, you know, in the crowd, you'll still hear people: Leave him alone, and, you know, they're all beating him up and la, la, la, things like that, which, you know, it's part of the job. It's always going to be like that.

I would hope that the good police work that's being done every day, I would hope that that stuff overrides, you know, things of the past. There's always going to be problems in every city, but I don't think New Orleans should be, you know, considered a corrupt police department when we're all out here risking our lives to make this city better.

CORNISH: Well, Officer Davis, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Mr. DAVIS: Not a problem.

CORNISH: That's Officer Sherife Davis of New Orleans, First District Police Department.

Unidentified Woman: 10-1, it's a 3862.

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