The International Association of Chiefs of Police has been conducting meetings across New Orleans this week to receive public comment on what citizens want to see in their next police Chief. NOLA Messenger queried more than a dozen residents to get their ideas of what attributes and policy directives are most important. The responses were wide-ranging and touched on many areas.
“We need a Police Chief who is committed and laser focused on New Orleans with a clear vision of what is needed. He or she also must to be able to express that vision and get the job done,” said Irma Muse Dixon, former chair of the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
“Citizens have a strong desire for a police chief who represents change. A leader who is forward thinking and open minded when it comes to evolving within the current state of policing in society. People want someone with experience who understand what officers go through on a daily basis and a leader who leads by example,” said Anthony Jackson Jr.,president of the Police Community Advisory Board.
“I hope for a competent and experienced leader, someone that commands authority and respect, and who will instill confidence in New Orleanians that he or she is poised to tackle the number one problem our city faces — crime,” said trial attorney Megan Kiefer.
Instilling confidence was also on the mind of attorney Richard Cortizas, who heads up the NOLA Coalition. ““I think whoever is the next permanent Chief should be a person that instills confidence in the community and has the respect of the department they lead,” Cortizas commented.
“Whether the next chief is local or an outsider, the fundamental question is how do police a city of 300,000 plus tourists and visitors with 900 police officers? You will need Chief with effective management skills to develop a plan to manage the department, fight crime and think outside the box,” said former Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. who served as a police officer early in his career. Hunter wrote in a 2022 op-ed: “The primary problem with the NOPD is its culture.”
French Quarter business and civic leader Glade Bilby is also looking for an out-of-the-box thinker. “With the situation we presently have at the NOPD, we need a leader who surrounds himself or herself with good people, who thinks out-of-the-box for solutions to our various issues, and who is able to inspire and motivate both the rank and file of the force as well as our citizens. Above all, he or she must be self-confident enough to be up to the enormous challenge – because it certainly is one,” Bilby said.
Debra Campbell, chairperson of the non-profit advocacy organization A Community Voice, focused her remarks transparency and accountability. “Honesty should be the first on the police chief’s to-do list. Conversations with citizens should guide police. Show us an improvement in the system, in public safety for Black neighborhoods too before asking for anything. We need to know where the money is being spent. The Consent Decree needs to be embraced. Build trust with transparency,” Campbell proclaimed.
Orleans Parish School Board Vice President Carlos Zervigon is concerned about issues regarding education. “It is important that we have a Police Chief who understands the complexity around such issues as truancy, juvenile delinquency, child abuse and poverty. The Police Chief doesn’t work in a vacuum. Collaboration between all agencies that serve and protect our youth is a must,” said Zervigon.
Lawyer, parent and business owner Kea Sherman articulated her thoughts on violent crime committed by juveniles. “Most of the violent crime in the past few years appears to be committed by school-age kids, who have dropped out of school. No one seems to be addressing the root cause, which is extremely frustrating to watch,” Sherman stated. Sherman said she would want to know the new Chief’s plan to specifically address juvenile crime and truancy and how the Chief would work with the D.A.’s office, the charter schools and the Orleans Parish School Board. “At one time there were truancy officers that assisted. Our city desperately needs an action plan with the NOPD as an active participant.”
Lakeview IT professional Bob Murrell believes that the next Police Chief should “halt the use of invasive surveillance technology, crackdown on overtime pay and corruption and investigate the prominence of sexual violence in the NOPD.”
Brian Egana, a New Orleans East-based consultant, prioritized presence and responsiveness. “Constituents want to see NOPD in their neighborhoods. People are at the point now where there’s very little confidence in NOPD. Being present and responsive can help restore that confidence,” Egana emphasized.
Seventh Ward neighborhood association president Morgan Clevenger said that the next Police Chief would must be able to work collaboratively and build morale. “The next Police Chief must have the ability and desire to work with all branches of government, the criminal justice system and most importantly the community. To be successful, our next Chief must also have the leadership capacity to boost morale within the department, focusing on merit and experience over politics,” Clevenger suggested.
Veteran and former firefighter L. Jameel Shaheer is looking at the big picture. “I’m expecting the new Police Chief to recruit and build the department to respectable numbers, work with the community to solve some of the problems, and be a part of the ‘village’ along with the schools, church, city and home.”
Algiers businessman Kenneth Cutno said the job of the police is to protect and not harm the community. “I’m looking for better attitudes, more respect, friendlier and more polite officers. If the officers would treat the people with respect, they’ll treat them the same way. More police visibility, more patrolling and foot patrols in communities, creating an interactive partnership between agencies and the people that they serve keeps officers more informed of community happenings and empowers them to continue solving public safety problems and crime in the community.” Cutno also recommends recreation programs for the youth with the police officers. “Building relationships helps us all in the long-run. Young people develop a positive image of police and police officers are safer when they are known and respected. Officers also enjoy the feelings of goodwill, personal connection, and individual accomplishment. This leads to more job satisfaction.”
Gretchen Bradford, president of the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association, was the only person interviewed who specifically referenced Interim Police Chief Michelle Woodfork. “I think the Interim Chief is doing well. She has not had an opportunity to implement all of her vision but so far she is handling the tremendous task well. It will take a moment before we can see her successes.” Bradford also said that in addition to strong leadership skills, the Police Chief should not be afraid to make tough decisions promptly but after “thoughtful consideration” of how all parties will be affected. The police must be “great forward thinkers, proactive, so that they are prepared for all situations,” Bradford said.
Finally, French Quarter activist Leo Watermeier had a simple but highly improbable solution. “Offer the job to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto. He knows the area and has a good record of fighting crime.” IACP was hired by the New Orleans City Council to conduct a national search to identify candidates for Chief of Police. Mayor LaToya Cantrell has already indicated she wants Interim Chief Woodfork to be named to the permanent position.
Interested citizens who have not yet attended a community meeting can participate in a session today (Thursday, April 20) at 4:40 p.m. at the Nora Navara Library, 1902 St. Bernard Avenue, or at 6 p.m. at the Suburban Baptist Church, 10501 Chef Menteur Highway.
“New Orleans’ crime problem is complex. A new Police Chief alone won’t be able to solve it,” said Kea Sherman. “The new Chief will need to figure out how to improve morale, which will help with retention. He or she will need to make the officers feel supported, while also hold bad actors accountable. It is tall order in this day and age,” she concluded.
EARLY VOTING CONTINUES THROUGH SATURDAY, APRIL 22
Voters still have time to visit the polls in advance of the April 29 election, which coincides with Jazz Fest. Early voting is taking place at City Hall, the Voting Machine Warehouse on Chef Highway, the Algiers Courthouse and the Lake Vista Community Center. The ballot includes a runoff election for Criminal District Court between Simone Levine and Leon Roche as well as a millage proposition by Sheriff Susan Hutson. With three days remaining for early voting, only 4,639 citizens have cast their votes so far. The Bureau of Governmental Research issued a report on Wednesday, April 19 opposing the Sheriff’s proposition. BGR alleges the Sheriff’s Office has not fully mapped out a spending plan for the additional millage and that the future employee pay plan is still under development.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.