The mayor and the City Council are about to embark upon perhaps the most significant and impactful decision they will make for the citizens of our city – who to select as the city’s next chief of police.
The choice will be pivotal, because crime is the number-one issue for the vast majority of residents, whether they live in New Orleans East or the Garden District. People are justifiably angry, frustrated and do not feel safe.
I have some suggestions about the selection process.
This advice stems from my background, as a former NOPD police officer and a semifinalist for the chief position during Mayor Marc Morial’s first term. I have also worked as the attorney for the Black Organization of Police and as a judge in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, when I saw many police officers come and go through my courtroom.
The fundamental question that must be asked of the finalists for the chief’s job is about the realities of our undermanned department:
How do you police a city of 350,000 people plus numerous tourists and visitors, with approximately 900 police officers?
Candidates must be able to convincingly answer this question. Because whoever is selected will not have the luxury of a 1,500 member force. Even if the NOPD nets 100 officers a year, it will take six years to reach the optimal number of 1,500 police officers.
To this day, I still talk with current and former police officers about the culture within the NOPD. As we know, today’s officers are working on platoons where, at any given time, only a handful of officers from each district are working the streets. They need to be led by an innovator who can devise strategies to fight crime despite low manpower. They need a skilled manager who can move the department away from its long-standing culture of favoritism for family and friends.
As the mayor interview finalists and councilmembers confirm or reject the mayor’s selected candidate, they should seek a chief who can:
- Effectively address issues that can improve staffing: recruitment, morale and retention.
- Further address short-staffing by inviting the State Police to patrol the interstates and state highways within the city.
- Institute exams for officers hoping to become detectives, ending the nepotistic plan for advancement that prioritizes “who” you know rather than “what” you know.
- Dole out discipline fairly, by implementing policies and disciplinary procedures that make sense and are consistent and transparent.
- Assume an all-hands-on-deck approach to patrols. The chief, deputy chiefs – ranking and non-ranking officers not engaged in district patrol duties – should hit the streets. While exceptions can be made for specialized officers, this action alone would send a message to criminals while supporting district officers and reassuring the community at large that everybody who wears a badge is here to protect the public.
- Work smart: strategically focusing on hot spots, using community-policing principles while working with the community to develop a comprehensive and holistic plan to reduce and prevent crime.
- Think outside the box, by investing in technology that is legal, has safeguards, relieves officers and has proven results.
Our city yearns to feel safe. We need a practical visionary to lead the New Orleans Police Department and our community into a new era.
Hunter is a former NOPD police officer and judge.