Tim Bruneau discovered New Orleans in 1997, when, as a twenty-three-year-old soldier at Fort Polk, Louisiana, he was close enough to the city to hit Bourbon Street on weekends. He’d spent two years in Panama as a military policeman, and New Orleans reminded him, in a good way, of Central America—hot, sensual, and easygoing. Rather than go home to Texas after leaving the Army, he joined the New Orleans Police Department.
Bruneau is tall and thin, with a big Adam’s apple in a long neck. He walks like a marionette, lurching along with his knees slightly bent and his feet dragging. In 2002, he was hit by a car as he was running after a drug suspect. When he awoke, six weeks later, he couldn’t move his left side. Bruneau assumed that his career was finished, but the department stood by him, paying for several operations, including the amputation of the little finger of his left hand, and keeping a job open for him. When it became clear that he would never be strong enough to return to patrol, he was made a detective.
The Hurricane Katrina crisis began for Bruneau on Monday, August 29th, shortly after the storm had passed through. A young woman lay dead in the middle of the 1900 block of Jackson Avenue. Her skull was crushed, and a fallen street light, blown down by the ninety-five-mile-an-hour winds, lay beside her. Along Jackson Avenue, people were emerging from shotgun shacks into a world of smashed oak trees and downed power lines. Some of them knew the woman. She had gone ...