Every candidate for mayor has pledged to conduct a national search for a new police superintendent. All but John Georges and Rob Couhig say on their Web sites that this pledge is integral to their program to reduce crime.
The clear inference is that the police force here is so broken, the problems so endemic, that nobody is qualified to be promoted from within.
The uniformity of opinion among mayoral candidates about this is responsive to polling that shows public approval of Police Superintendent Warren Riley and the NOPD at large to be at extraordinarily low levels. Riley has attributed the poor showing to a conspiracy involving the news media and citizen groups to discredit his work and keep him from running for office.
Still, for candidates who have elaborated on their plans to reduce crime, calls for a national search are about more than an easy-to-understand way to distance oneself from an unpopular incumbent regime. They also signal an intention to change the city’s crime-fighting philosophy and recognition of the deep distrust between this community and its police.
There is talk of finding a superintendent with a background implementing “community policing” strategy, a series of tactics designed to improve relations between police and the public. Commanders do this, in part, by increasing the visibility and accessibility of patrol officers and replacing simple marijuana possession and traffic arrests with court citations. Riley has been reluctant to implement many of the reforms sought by advocates of community policing practices.
Between the lines, calls for a national search also indicate an acknowledgment that the current leadership has failed to establish police integrity, as evidenced by ongoing federal investigations of police brutality and the unsettling number of officers who have themselves been arrested.
In forums, James Perry has explicitly criticized the frequency with which police officers are indicted. Others have been more careful, alluding to issues related to police behavior under Warren Riley more obliquely. Mitch Landrieu, for instance, lists experience “taking action against misconduct and abuse” as a prerequisite for his new chief.
Still, criticizing the men and blue can be treacherous for an aspiring office-holder. As unpopular as the NOPD is, individual officers are generally considered to be exemplars of service and sacrifice. The endorsements of local police associations may still hold significant value. Certainly, having a collegial relationship with the NOPD rank-and-file will be critical to the success of the mayor, regardless of who is superintendent.
As a result, the call for a “national search” has become an effective code for criticism of NOPD philosophy and conduct that avoids a more detailed and potentially treacherous assault on the specific failures of current NOPD leadership and officers.