NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Police Department said Friday afternoon it is investigating a burglary into its storm-damaged station in the 9th Ward -- not long after a television reporter and officials from the Metropolitan Crime Commission walked into the open building to investigate why it had not been secured.
The burglary investigation apparently stems from a WWL-TV news report that found the 5th District police station unsecured -- one door unlocked and another wide open -- with sensitive files and internal documents in plain view.
The NOPD's Public Information Office issued a news release Friday "requesting the public's assistance in locating and identifying the suspect(s) wanted in connection with the burglary" of the building, which is in the 3900 block of North Claiborne Avenue. The release states that Superintendent Warren Riley learned of the situation on Friday from a television reporter.
Within 30 minutes, the station fired back in an e-mail sent to all of the news release recipients, refuting the NOPD's claims.
"At no time did reporter Bigad Shaban or any member of WWL-TV News report a burglary to the NOPD," reads the e-mail from the station's news director.
Instead, the news outlet says, the reporter informed Riley that on two separate occasions, Thursday and Friday, the reporter found the station unsecured. The front door was unlocked and the rear door was open, according to the television news report.
A Police Department spokesman did not return requests for comment.
It remains unclear what, if anything, was stolen or if there was an attempted theft from the building. State law defines burglary as the unauthorized entering of any dwelling with the intent to commit a felony or any theft.
The NOPD's news release said that a preliminary investigation revealed that the front door of the station had been pried open and entry was made "sometime between Friday, May 30, and Friday, June 6." Crime lab technicians arrived Friday and "found possible evidence that could lead to the identity of the suspects."
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, joined the TV crew inside the abandoned station and commented on the scene for the television report.
"For their preliminary investigation, they must have watched the news," he told The Times-Picayune Friday night.
"You are talking, at the minimum, hundreds of police reports, quite possibly, thousands," he said of the scene. "In some rooms they were deposited in heaps on the floor. That means the furniture was removed but the reports were left on the floor. They left the most sensitive stuff in the station unattended for 2 1/2 years."
Some documents were marked confidential and many contained sensitive information. Police reports typically list victim's names, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, addresses and more.
In another room, Goyeneche said, dozens of internal investigation files of police officers were open. He also saw internal documents belonging to the district attorney's office.
Goyeneche, who as head of the watchdog organization often critiques the department, said the NOPD must conduct an internal investigation.
"If anyone is upset at the Police Department, they need to direct their anger internally to identify which individuals were responsible for allowing this breach of security to exist," he said. "This is a perfect reason why we need an inspector general and an independent police monitor to look into this."
Brendan McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3301.