By GARY POPP
About 180 Indiana State Police personnel helped out officers in Biloxi, Miss., following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
On Tuesday, officers from the coastal city came north to repay the favor.
The Biloxi Police Department gave ISP a check for more than $9,000 as a gesture of its appreciation of the six weeks that ISP helped out in 2005.
Biloxi police officers raised $9,491.83 after some of its officers became aware that several ISP troopers’ homes were destroyed during the tornado that struck Southern Indiana earlier this year. The money was handed over to the ISP Alliance on Tuesday and will be distributed to the four troopers.
Five days after Katrina hit Biloxi, 180 Indiana troopers responded in three waves of 60 troopers. Each unit spent two weeks in the city conducting typical police work with the city’s officers. Biloxi Police Lt. Bruce Johnson said officers from his department saw the tornado devastation to the homes of the four ISP troopers’ homes as an opportunity to repay the goodwill provided by ISP 2005.
Johnson said the officers took it upon themselves to raise the funds.
“This is a grass-roots thing, this wasn’t the city. The city helped us, but this started with two officers,” Johnson said.
HOW THEY HELPED
The presence of ISP troopers not only provided needed additional law enforcement, but it also allowed the Biloxi officers to take time off to rest from what had become extended work shifts.
“When the troopers and other agencies showed up, you just don’t know how good it was,” Johnson said.
He said the severity of the destruction caused by Katrina — which killed more than 1,800 — shook the entire city of Biloxi.
“Having not been there, you would not understand the devastation. I have been through hurricanes. I have been through tornadoes, but nothing to that effect,” Johnson said. “The city lost 25,000 buildings. The city lost 144 vehicles. We had 56 confirmed casualties, and I believe the number is probably higher.”
After learning of the ISP troopers who lost their homes in the tornado, Johnson said officers opened up a bank account and began organizing fundraisers, including several red beans and rice dinners. Johnson said with the community’s support, the department raised more than $3,200 in less than six hours during one of the dinner fundraisers.
“People were coming up and dropping $500 in. They said, ‘I remember when Indiana was down here and they did this and they did that.’ Everybody remembered,” Johnson said. “It really does makes you feel good about your city when they remember people helping them and they are willing to help out.”
Johnson said the assistance of ISP troopers not only effected him professionally, but his also his family.
“My brother-in-law, his boat got stolen, and two Indiana troopers caught the guy,” Johnson said. “Everybody has a story that relates to Indiana.”
Johnson said a photograph hangs at the Biloxi Police Department of an ISP patrol car out of respect and appreciation of the Indiana lawmen.
He said even the city’s Applebee’s restaurant has a law enforcement collage, and the largest photograph is of the first wave of troopers, including those from Indiana.
Johnson said the Indiana troopers endured uncomfortable living conditions while lending a hand to the people of Biloxi.
“They slept in third-world conditions — in the parking lot of a mall that had been devastated in tents, with generators, in their cars because we had no place to put them. All the hotels were destroyed,” he said.
Johnson added that the quality of police work was remarkably better than what was provided by other agencies.
“We had a lot of people that came down with good intentions, but just were not up to the task, and they [ISP] were,” he said. “They road with us. They made arrests. They drove by themselves. It worked out really well.”
ISP Sgt. Jerry Goodin said there were concerns early on that the agency would have to draft troopers to travel to Biloxi to provide assistance.
That proved not to be the case.
Goodin said ISP created a volunteer sign-up list to see if a draft would be necessary.
“The volunteer list got so large, that we actually had [troopers] on stand by to go if someone dropped out,” he said. “We had [troopers] fighting to go.”
More than 600 troopers, more than half the state’s agency, volunteered to travel to Biloxi.
Wayne Flick, executive director of the Indiana State Police Alliance, spent two weeks in Biloxi.
He Flick retired in 2010 after 32 years with ISP while working in Madison County.
“In those 32 years, the most fulfilling detail that I ever took part in was going to Biloxi for two weeks,” Flick said. “They appreciated us, and you could tell.”
He told a story of an Indiana trooper who stopped a woman walking down the road after the 6 p.m. curfew. The woman was walking without any shoes and told the trooper that she was just trying to get to a friend’s house. She told the trooper that she had lost everything in the storm, even her shoes.
Flick said the trooper had taken with him a box of shoes, which he kept in the trunk of his patrol car, to give out to people. The trooper was able to give the woman a pair of shoes and help her on her way.
“When I hear about stuff like that — a state trooper from Indiana doing something like that for somebody from Biloxi, it almost made me cry at the time,” Flick said.
He said it was a fascinating opportunity to provide help to the residents of Biloxi who were facing dire needs. He said the Biloxi officers welcomed the ISP troopers with open arms, and that it was difficult to leave at the end of the two weeks after making strong bonds with many of the officers.
The effort of the ISP to assist the residents and officers of Biloxi started as police duty, but has evolved into friendships.
“Hurricane Katrina flattened Biloxi, Miss.” Goodin said. “We responded to help those folks when it happened. We made some good friends. They are returning the favor. It is what good friends do.”