New Orleans Organizations Call for Process, Transparency in Police Superintendent Hire
On August 11th in New Orleans, an unarmed young Black man, Armand Bennett, was shot in the head by a New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officer Lisa Lewis, who had turned off her body camera as she approached his car during a traffic stop. Even more appalling, is the fact that the incident was intentionally kept from the public for two days. Once finally reported, then NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas apologized, calling the failure to disclose the shooting, “a complete snafu.”
The NOPD is under a federal Consent Decree with the Department of Justice due to years of corruption and abuse, from the murders of 3 Black men and 1 Black woman in the Algiers Seven shootings in 1981 to the murder-for-hire of Kim Groves in 1994 after she filed complaints for police brutality (for which the officer remains the only police officer to have received a federal death sentence) to the Danziger Bridge shootings and subsequent cover-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the murder of Henry Glover whose body was burned in a police cover-up in 2005. And now Armand Bennett (who fortunately, survivedthe shooting.)
The police killing of Michael Brown is not unique to Ferguson. It’s happening all over the United States. Police brutality and violence is happening to young Black men and women, transgender women of color, and undocumented communities. It’s happening in small towns and in big cities. And it’s nothing new.
We are at a pivotal moment where New Orleans can choose to move in the direction towards a system of public safety that values the lives of all its citizens. NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas stepped down just a few weeks ago as Mayor Landrieu named an interim Police Superintendent, Michael Harrison, to lead the Department. Recognizing this critical juncture, the below organizations call on the City of New Orleans to:
1. Conduct a national search for the position of New Orleans Police Superintendent.
We look forward to learning more about Michael Harrison and his plans for reform, the City of New Orleans has a history of hiring Superintendents who already had ties with the department. The three immediate past Superintendents (Eddie Compass, Warren Riley, and Ronal Serpas) were hired as Superintendent with at least 15+ years of experience on the NOPD force. Each of those Superintendents left the force due to controversy and/or misconduct. Each of those Superintendents also left the NOPD riddled with corruption and inadequate accountability mechanisms in place.
Richard Pennington, NOPD Superintendent prior to Eddie Compass, was an import to the NOPD. Pennington went through great strides to reform the force, but because the force was plagued with corruption and a permissive environment for misconduct that spanned through many generations, Pennington’s efforts for reform were unsustainable.
The NOPD, in its current state, cannot afford to continue its revolving door of poor leadership. The citizens of New Orleans should not have to continue suffering the consequences of elected officials hiring friends with minimum qualifications—but plenty of political fraternity—for the job of “Top Cop.”
While we are often the same advocates who prioritize the hiring of local New Orleanians in other sectors of our communities, we know that a nationwide search is nationally recognized as a best practice and we are concerned about the ability of someone from inside the ranks of the NOPD, entrenched in years of corruption, to reform the Department. Especially given the fact that Harrison has already stated that his primary goals for the near future are to increase man power, retention and morale among officers while reducing violent crimes, not reform.
2. Develop a community process, including appointing a selection committee to fully vet candidates and ultimately determine the hire.
There should be a selection committee with the authority and autonomy to lead the national search to hire a qualified leader for the NOPD.
That search should in no way resemble the search process conducted by Mayor Landrieu to hire Ronal Serpas. In February 2010, Mayor Landrieu announced that he created a selection committee for NOPD Superintendent. The appointees to the committee represented a variety of community leaders and city officials. By April 2010, most of the community leaders had resigned from the committee citing a lack of transparency, insufficient autonomy, and lack of access to the actual decision-making committee.
This search should include representation from directly impacted communities in New Orleans, including youth, undocumented and immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, communities of color, persons with disabilities, people from diverse religious communities, as well as representatives from the Independent Police Monitor and the Department of Justice.
The prospect will need the firm support of the Mayor, Civil Service Commission, City Council, and Department of Justice- as well as the larger community- to rid the department of those officers, policies, and practices that contribute to the poor performance and lack of credibility of the department.
3. Make background information about new hire public and transparent, including any misconduct allegations or abuse.
Qualified candidates for NOPD Superintendent should not have substantiated misconduct allegations or reprimands on their records.
Serpas had substantiated misconduct allegations and/or reprimands in three different states before becoming NOPD Chief. The candidate should demonstrate a proven record of reform and of strong leadership, in the face of fighting corruption, during their career. Background information and complaints against candidates should be made accessible to the public for review for a period no shorter than 4 weeks.
As organizations representing and staffed by concerned New Orleanians who are committed to fighting corruption in policing in our city, we are certain that the appointment of a new NOPD Superintendent without an open and transparent process will not create a police force that supports the wellbeing of our city’s youth. We call on elected officials to seize this pivotal change moment and to support a process that gets our city closer to an end of police violence and toward safety for all of our communities.
Congress of Day Laborers (Congreso de Jornaleros) of the Worker’s Center for Racial Justice
Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
Grow Dat Youth Farm
Kids ReThink New Orleans Schools
Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association
Wanna add your organization’s name? Email us!