Gulfport Police Cope With Overwhelming Storm

On Monday morning, Gulfport finally adjusted its post Katrina work schedule. Officers are still working 12 hours shifts. But they're working fewer days, so they can spend more time at home rebuilding their lives. The shift change was made to help an exhausted department recover from an overwhelming hurricane.

Mike Easton remembers the first hours after Katrina rammed into Gulfport.

"We weren't doing law enforcement after the storm. We were doing rescue runs," he said.

It was an experience unlike anything Easton had ever encountered in his 13 years patrolling Gulfport streets.

"I'm dead on my feet. We all are," he said.

Easton was so tired, so emotionally drained, and so worried about Gulfport's recovery, the veteran officer just turned in his resignation. He's moving his family to Georgia, and getting out of law enforcement.

"It was hard," he said about making the decision to leave. "But I had to base it on the needs of my family first."

Easton wasn't the only officer who made that decision. According to Gulfport's comptroller, 20 officers sworn to protect the city have left the department since Katrina came ashore. Steve Barnes is Gulfport's police chief.

"It's a real tough time right now," Barnes said. "Everybody is dealing with a lot of personal loss and sacrifice."

The reopening of Highway 90 made it possible for Gulfport to shutdown checkpoints that were often manned by patrolmen. And that finally gave Barnes a chance to revamp his daily schedules.

"We're going to a different schedule that will give them more time off. And I think that's extremely important at this point," the chief said.

Barnes got no complaints from any of his lieutenants. Greg Herman oversees Gulfport's dayshift.

"We've got to pull together, and do what we have to do to get through the days," Herman said.

That's what Easton realized when he decided to put his family before his badge. It wasn't an easy decision -- because the men and women in uniform mean as much to him as the kids at home do.

"I'm leaving my family. That's cut and dry. That's how it is," Easton said, referring to his patrol mates. "These are the people I love and I know. We just felt we would be better somewhere else as far as what our family needs."

In the three and a half months since Katrina, Gulfport had to paid its police officers about $1.7 million dollars in overtime.

Gulfport isn't the only Harrison County department to lose officers since the hurricane. Biloxi had four officers and six dispatchers leave after Katrina. Long Beach lost one officer. Pass Christian is still fully staffed.