Bonner County sheriff’s deputies will cross Idaho this week collecting supplies for their exhausted colleagues in southern Louisiana.
After criss-crossing the state, the officers will lead a convoy of squad cars and at least one moving van directly to St. Charles Parish, where they will deliver the supplies and report for up to two weeks of police duty.
“They need help,” Capt. Jim Drake said. “They’re calling for backup.”
St. Charles Parish sits just east of New Orleans and was thrashed by Hurricane Katrina, though the region appears to have weathered the storm with less damage and chaos than New Orleans. On Saturday, parish sheriff Greg Champagne told the local newspaper, “We have this parish under control,” but he also noted that his officers have been working nonstop and with almost no outside help.
In nearby New Orleans, at least 200 police officers have quit their jobs and two others have committed suicide, according to news reports. One of the dead officers is said to have lost his home and entire family in the storm. Many of the region’s police officers have been working nonstop and struggling to find gasoline for their squad cars, let alone food, a place to go to the bathroom or dry socks.
Bonner County is closer to Anchorage than it is to St. Charles Parish, but Drake said the pleas for help from Louisiana were impossible to ignore. He and five fellow officers will leave Sandpoint on Wednesday afternoon with two squad cars and the biggest rental truck they can find. The convoy will travel south on U.S. Highway 95 and east on Interstate 84, stopping to pick up donations in at least 19 Idaho counties.
Although details are still being worked out – teletypes, e-mail messages and phone calls were being made to other law enforcement agencies – stops are planned in all the major cities on the route, including Coeur d’Alene, Boise and Twin Falls. After driving through Idaho, the group will continue nonstop to Louisiana.
“We’re going to get to them as fast as we can,” Drake said.
The effort, called Operation Backup, is looking for donations to bring to law officers involved in hurricane relief efforts. Drake said the group is hoping to collect T-shirts, socks, underwear and other basic items. A few officers are also sending along their extra duty belts, which carry pistols, ammunition and other patrol essentials.
“The officers down there, they’ve lost something, too – even the shirts on their backs,” Drake said. “We’re just going down to do what we can.”
The deputies might rent a second moving van, “depending on how much stuff we get,” Drake said.
Once in Louisiana, the officers will also pitch in with police duties, including conducting regular patrols, staffing security posts or guarding prisoners. The Bonner deputies will likely remain on the county payroll during their stint in Louisiana. Sheriff Elaine Savage has been “very supportive,” Drake said.
The sheriff’s office will continue to provide regular patrols and emergency services in Bonner County, according to a statement issued by the department.
The relief operation is being coordinated by the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office and the Fraternal Order of Police, Idaho Panhandle Lodge No. 15.
A donation dropoff center is being organized for Coeur d’Alene. The location will be announced by Wednesday morning, Drake said.