Criminal Justice

It ain’t hot potato: Landrieu must clutch chief search

  • 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.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
  • ~Editilla ahems’n’haws Yassah Ya’Betchas!~
    We hope that Flood Protection Task Force, well we just wonda… what was he talking about with “Open and Transparent City Government”, and what if one of those esteemed locals disagree with His Mitchiness on Flood Protection?
    If any of you have met Ms Landis, as I, you would have to think this looks like a good question to ask now regarding the veracity, thus the efficacy, of these other Task Forces.
    We had enough “Who’z on 1st?” games?
    After seeing this new mayor’s Economics Task Force bend over and assume the position for LSU on killing Charity Hospital, we have to wonder if that is the City’s plan for the Corps on Option 1 as well?
    Thank you

  • So who exactly are these community leaders who took their toys and went home?

    Denatus King of the NAACP, I believe, founded the Justice for Jefferson group. That shows such poor judgment, that I hope Landrieu never planned to consider his opinion when making this decision.

  • swisscheese

    We learn today that 75 have applied for the police superintendent’s job and that these applicants are now being filtered by the professional organizations adept at assessing which applicants make it to the final list of 20, 15, 5, or 3, or whatever the number is that need to be considered by the task force, before passing the short list to the mayor-elect.

    Can you imagine even for an instant that the King/Landis/Womack/Henderson foursome had the capability or insight to plough through the resumes of 75 candidates and make a rational decision at the end of it? No way! And, can you imagine that they do that without leaks occurring in the process? Again, no way – Landis is a shining example of how NOT to behave publicly with processes like this.

    Confidentiality – some call it lack of transparency – is a BEST PRACTICE when you’re going through the first stages of a process like this. As is the use of professional search organizations to do the initial grunt work. This foursome were clearly both ignorant of the process and best practices or were frustrated in their personal agendas; whichever, it’s better they’re out of the process as they were not serving the people of this city in any meaningful way. Nothing’s failing here except the weaker members of the team that are falling by the wayside. Hasta la vista, Baby!

  • Eli

    My opinion is that if King and the NAACP lacked credibility on criminal justice issues it is because the NAACP has been absent on the NOPD disaster for years, not because of King’s one-time support for former Congressman Jefferson. In other cities, the NAACP has lead efforts to report civil rights abuses and to demand justice. In New Orleans, the NAACP has been largely absent until very recently. While that might annoy you about the NAACP, it shouldn’t change your opinion of Landrieu’s responsibility to lead on criminal justice reform.

  • Red

    Now THAT is critical analysis and thoughtful commentary I can relate to.

  • dumbfounded

    It is fascinating–and suspicious–to read the comments sections on any of the reports on these resignations. Certain phrases and accusations recur–none of which can be found in any of the actual communications in question. They “wanted more control.” “Took their toys and went home.” Etc. Some of these phrases also showed up in yesterday’s Task Force press conference.

    Yet what people ignore are the actual facts. The email Landis sent was, in fact, her third report to the public. The first two were done with the Task Force blessing when they didn’t have the time to provide their own progress report to the public. It had nothing to do with revealing anonymous applications and everything to do with revealing what the process was to be.

    Task force members–and the public–were told that their feedback would shape the search. Task Force members, having provided that feedback, asked to know how it would be incorporated into the search and what kinds of questions would be forwarded to the contracted agency. No one could give an answer. They also asked for at least a weekly update on progress. None could be given. Yet, yesterday, after four defections, suddenly the Task Force felt it was time to share some information on how many applications had come in and what the process from here would be.

    It should also be noted that while they were apparently unhappy with Landis’ critical email, they responded by dismissing her with their own email leaked to the media. Now that’s good government!!

    None of the Task Force expected to be making the final decision (yet another meme that the Transition Team seems intent on spreading)–but they did expect to do more than just sit on their asses at occassional meetings in which absolutely nothing was done. Perhaps it was naive of them to believe Landrieu’s promises of doing things differently.

  • Dumbfonded: I can assure you that I have no inside knowledge or agenda. I just tend to be flip when commenting on blogs.

    My question to E was legit. Who are these people objecting and how seriously should their objections be taken. I don’t know much about them or their organizations, so I don’t know how to evaluate their complaints.

    In my opinion, the Jefferson family is a cancer on our city. Mr. King was a vocal supporter of William Jefferson. Therefore, I don’t take him that seriously. His objection to the process seems to be that all names should be made public (or at least revealed to the 20-member committee, which is effectively the same thing). That strikes me as unrealistic and probably silly in this process.

    Given that E in this post seemed to give equal weight to the objections of all four members who left the committee, I wasn’t sure how seriously to take the complaints of the others.

    Stephanie Grace sorted through it all pretty well today, I thought.

  • Their opinions matter insofar as Mitch Landrieu selected them to serve on his task force. So if their opinions were of little value, then he was wrong to select them. If their opinions are of value, then …

    That said, releasing all names–at this early stage–seems unnecessary.

  • TippyToe

    Seems small and wordy, but all these “task forces” should have been “advisory panels” from the start. Arrive to it however you want, but at this point one person is mayor-elect and it should be his decision how to go about making the tough choices and, in the case of the NOPD, who to pick as chief.

    The only task the NOPD task force should have and, so it seems, has been assigned is to advise the mayor, not decide, on who to pick and how to go about it.

    Again, seems wordy, but I think is an important distinction and would have helped avoid current confusion and fallout.

  • Eli

    Upon reflection, I don’t feel like my previous comment was all that clear or accurate. To be fair, the NAACP was way out in front in condemning the Danziger Bridge shooting and has lead the charge for federal investigations of that event. To suggest that they have been ‘largely absent’ as I did earlier was over the top.

    I don’t feel as though the NAACP has been particularly effective in connecting that shooting to all the other instances of police terror in order to build a case for a consent decree agreement or federal intervention into the operation of the NOPD. I’ve mentioned the late 90s consent decree in Pittsburgh before, which was spurred by a class-action lawsuit by their local NAACP and ACLU chapters. I think it really stinks that similar steps were not taken in the intervening years between Katrina and today.

    TippyToe, I actually think that is a good point. Landrieu may have erred in setting up a formal process in the first place instead of simply soliciting advice in private from those voices he trusts. That wouldn’t have precluded him from holding public meetings on the matter. Funneling these people into a formal committee seems actually seems kind of diminishing, especially since they’re not recommending cj policy or even setting the criteria for hiring a new police chief.

  • dumbfounded

    Comments here seem to be missing the point, which is that none of the people who stepped down thought they’d be picking the new chief. They did think that they would be part of the process, including helping define the priorities of the new chief, the questions the candidates would be asked, and so forth. But they found that the administration actually wanted no input or suggestions from the people selected to provide input and suggestions. And when they questioned the absence of any dialogue within the Task Force, they were out.

  • dumbfounded

    Ooops. I should say 3 of the 4 didn’t expect to choose the candidate. Perhaps the NAACP rep did.