• Danatus King of the NAACP
  • Baty Landis of Silence is Violence
  • Gina Womack of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
  • Norris Henderson of VOTE

These are community leaders and important stakeholders in efforts to reform our criminal justice system and repair our broken police department. They were all named to Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s 21-member NOPD task force. They all left over their concerns with the process for determining the next police superintendent.

In other words, just about 20 percent of the original task force has lost faith in the process.

I have a hard time believing this is the last of the turnover.

So what is going on here? Is Mitch Landrieu’s signature transition initiative failing? Why?

At issue is that word that everyone uses but everyone has his or her own definition of: Transparency.

King, Landis, Womack, and Henderson say there hasn’t been enough. King complained that candidates for superintendent were not public from the onset. Landis, Womack, and Henderson wrote to the task force to say:

“We have determined that our input is not desired to the extent we were led to believe…”

In the e-mail sent to the membership of Silence is Violence that prompted her removal from the task force, Landis more specifically criticized the lack of internal communication on the task force and a lack of access to materials and search criteria.

The police search largely has been delegated to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which has a contract to consult the Landrieu transition. The organization is screening the candidates and will whittle down the applicant pool before the task force will have an opportunity to weigh in on any specific individual. For some task force stakeholders, the police chiefs group has been far from forthcoming about the methodology used to whittle down the list. Some task force members appear to be more in the loop than others.

I can respect the desire to be sensitive about the current positions of potential candidates. I’m not sure that I necessarily object to the IACP serving as the first filter for the task force. Frankly, I was never sold on the need for an official task force to help the Mayor-elect in the first place. Mitch Landrieu has said that this decision – who will lead the NOPD at its time of greatest despair – is his top priority.

He’s right. The success of Landrieu’s administration absolutely hinges on his ability to curtail crime while restoring the community’s faith in the NOPD. The credibility of the department is, at this point, absolutely critical to the city’s national and international reputation and will in large measure determine the pace at which tourism and other investment can grow, or slow.

If Landrieu had come out from the onset and said that he would consult privately with whomever he wanted to and that the selection of the new police chief would be his decision and his alone, perhaps he would have avoided this early headache.

He didn’t do that though. Instead, it looks like he considered that possibility and assumed that route would have yielded the same kind of transparency objections. So instead, he gathered stakeholders into a task force to create the appearance of transparency.

The problem is that these stakeholders have feelings – and schedules – and haven’t really relished having their time wasted for the purpose of political cover. Landrieu has been stung by the same kind of transparency complaints, only without any command presence to fall back on. Landrieu himself has not issued any comment on the task force turmoil; his transition has only issued official statements through a spokesman.

The other problem is that few really think that selecting a new police chief will actually bring about the long term concrete reform that our disgusting and failed incumbent NOPD regime requires. The Department of Justice is all over this police department and the case for a consent decree is increasingly clear-cut. If the NOPD’s actions don’t constitute a “pattern and practice” of civil rights violations, than perhaps no police department will ever again meet that standard.

This subtext has made Landrieu’s selection process difficult since it isn’t clear that prospective police chiefs would be enthusiastic about taking on a job where they would be immediately under the federal magnifying glass. It has also made the task force’s job seem that much more frivolous, since criminal justice reform advocates must demand far more than a new police chief.

While the selection process might be more complicated because of the increasingly obvious case for federal intervention, the politics for Landrieu should have been easier. It is quite clear that the NOPD is broken. It can and should be criticized in the strongest terms. For someone like Landrieu, someone with the gift of gab and someone who has campaigned on unified strength, this should be like tee-ball for a big leaguer. He should publicly request federal cooperation on a consent decree agreement and demand that all applicants for police superintendent fully embrace it as part of his own reform agenda.

The only problem with this – and perhaps we should all remind ourselves of it – is that Landrieu is not yet mayor of New Orleans. He has made no decision on his police chief. And even though he isn’t yet our mayor, he is now the political leader of this city. He should start acting like it now.