Monday, August 18, 2014

Serpas out as NOPD chief; Harrison sworn in as interim superintendent

Posted By and on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 11:26 AM

click to enlarge Mayor Mitch Landrieu introduced new NOPD interim chief Michael Harrison at a press conference this morning. Harrison is Commander of the 7th District. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu introduced new NOPD interim chief Michael Harrison at a press conference this morning. Harrison is Commander of the 7th District.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who was picked by Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2010 to lead the troubled New Orleans Police Department, announced he was stepping down at a City Hall press conference this morning. Serpas said he and his family would remain "proud residents of New Orleans" and said he had taken another position in the city, which he would be announcing later this week.

The interim superintendent will be NOPD 7th District Commander Lt. Michael Harrison, who was sworn in immediately following the press conference. "It's an honor and I'm humbled to lead NOPD during this transition," Harrison said. "God has blessed me and smiled on me."

Serpas said there was no pressure on him to leave the department. "We've made a difference in rebuilding the police department," he said, citing new police stations, vehicles, new police promotion standards and pay raises as among his achievements. He added that the NOPD had cleared a backlog of 850 rape kits and said the department had an excellent relationship with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

Landrieu said Harrison was a strong candidate for the permanent top cop job — "Possession is nine-tenths of the law," he joked — but said, "I will listen to the public over the next couple of weeks as to what they want."

A New Orleans native, Serpas joined the NOPD in 1980 and staying with the department for 21 years and rising to deputy chief. He left to become chief of the Washington State Patrol in 2001 before moving to Nashville to become chief of police there in 2004. His tenure there was marked by criticism and skepticism of the crime statistics Serpas used in his claim that crime in that city had hit a 20-year low point.

click to enlarge Outgoing NOPD Superintendent hugs new Interim Superintendent Michael Harrison at Harrison's swearing-in ceremony. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Outgoing NOPD Superintendent hugs new Interim Superintendent Michael Harrison at Harrison's swearing-in ceremony.

Landrieu has stood by Serpas in the four years since his selection, but his support has waned in recent months. The chief's tenure was often met with public criticism of Serpas' use of traffic stops to fight crime; the outsourcing of crime camera footage review to a company owned by his good friend, then-8th District Commander Edwin Hosli; and widespread dissatisfaction in the ranks. A WWL-TV report following the June shooting on Bourbon Street found there were only 1,139 officers on the force, down by several hundred from before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The city's goal is for 1,600 officers. 

Last week, following a case where an officer-involved shooting was not reported to the press (Serpas called it a mixup), Landrieu's own press secretary was abruptly reassigned to become the NOPD's public information officer, a job that had been vacant for four months. Serpas' departure marks the department's fourth high-profile exit this year — Hosli is now with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's office, former press secretary Remi Braden left in April, and deputy chief Kirk Bouyelas now is the District Attorney's chief investigator.

Members of the New Orleans City Council have been more tepid in their support. In January, both Council President Stacy Head and Councilman-At-Large Jason Williams (then a candidate) said a new police chief was needed. District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has been critical of Serpas in the past as well. Last weekWilliams told the hosts of the web radio show It's New Orleans that five members of the council were prepared to fire Serpas

Head wasted no time acknowledging Serpas' departure, sending out her own press release nearly an hour before Landrieu's press conference. "Chief Serpas has led NOPD for four years and brought many positive changes, including the implementation of a federal consent decree that continues to drive out corruption and waste from the department," she wrote. "He began a robust recruitment campaign that is well underway today and I am confident will ultimately strengthen our force by attracting the best and brightest. These efforts will lead to continued public safety and a reduction in violent crimes. I am grateful to Chief Serpas for his service and leadership."

Cantrell issued her own statement, saying, "I want to thank Chief Serpas for his years of service during a difficult transition period, involving the consent decree, a deepening morale problem within NOPD's rank and file and our battle against violent crime in New Orleans. I look forward to working with the interim chief Lt. Michael Harrison, the Mayor, The Council and city and community leaders to rebuild and strengthen NOPD's morale and to make our streets safer, ensuring that we have a chief and police department that is a part of the community it seeks to protect and serve."

District D Councilman and former State Rep. Jared Brossett issued a statement saying, in part, "Over his tenure, Chief Serpas furthered the Department's commitment to community policing, implemented the federal consent decree, and saw a reduction in the City's post-Katrina homicide rate. As a Louisiana Legislator, I worked with Chief Serpas on legislation to issue more summons in lieu of arrests for minor offenses. For this and his other achievements, I commend the Superintendent. And, I wish him the best in his future endeavors."

On his Instagram feed, Williams wrote, "Congratulations to Our New Police Chief & my long time friend Michael Harrison."

In a statement, District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey said Serpas "served the City of New Orleans well and I wish him the best in his future endeavors.""

The New Orleans Police Department has faced many challenges over the years," she said. "We now have the opportunity to turn a corner. We can build on the progress that has been made and create a new and improved Police Department."

Despite the criticism from the City Council, Serpas said he did not feel pressured to retire. He intends to announce within the next few days his next career move.

"Mayor Landrieu and I both knew my job was to build the department, always being prepared to retire, and now is the time and I'm glad to be able to," Serpas said. "The opportunity I'll discuss about my personal future in the next few days will make it clear this was a good time for me, for the city, for the administration, to move forward and turn it over to the new leadership we've been able to develop."

With a shrunken police force frequently citing low morale among the ranks, Serpas said there have been "tremendous successes" that have positively impacted the department.

"Morale is an issue that's important to every leader and it's also important to every employee," he said, "Promotions that have been held up since 2009 and lifting the residency rule has made a big difference in morale, buying new vehicles makes a difference in morale, offering promotions makes a difference in morale — and today, we have 27 people in the academy, we have an academy that is scheduled to start Sept. 2, and we'll have a third one by the end of the year. One of the best things for morale is to see those new people in the cars working with you."

Harrison, 45, is a McDonogh 35 graduate. He also served in the Louisiana Air National Guard from 1987 to 1995. He has headed the 7th District (covering New Orleans East) since 2012, and was previously the commander of the department's special investigations division (2011-2012) and as lieutenant and sergeant with the public integrity bureau (from 2000 to 2009). He holds a masters in criminal justice from Loyola University (A '08). He said he will spend the next 30 days with his "ear to the ground" gathering community feedback and "looking for opportunities to build stronger relationships across the city," adding that "murder reduction remains a top priority."

Further reading:

• In 2010, Gambit sat with Serpas for a sometimes-contentious cover story Q&A that touched on his history in Nashville, including criticism of the way Serpas kept crime statistics there — a complaint that would be echoed in New Orleans. Serpas also answered criticism that a third-generation NOPD officer was not the person to clean up the department.

• In 2011, Serpas talked with Gambit about the scathing U.S. Department of Justice report about NOPD, which had come out in March, and its recommendations, as well as the outsourcing of crime camera review to a company owned by his good friend, then-8th District Commander Edwin Hosli.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
08/18/2014

NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT SUPERINTENDENT RONAL SERPAS ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
Mayor Mitch Landrieu Appoints Commander Michael Harrison as Interim Superintendent


NEW ORLEANS, LA— New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Ronal W. Serpas, Ph. D., announced today that he will be retiring after more than 30 years of public service. Serpas was hired as NOPD Superintendent in May 2010.

“I want to thank Mayor Landrieu for giving me the opportunity to come back home to New Orleans to lead the fine men and women of the NOPD,” said Serpas. “This has been a great run under very difficult circumstances. When I came back in 2010, we needed dramatic changes. Together with Mayor Landrieu and the brave men and women of the force, we have turned this department around and laid a strong foundation for the future.”

He continued, “We began instituting the reforms of the consent decree, improved training and hiring standards, and modernized the department’s facilities and equipment. Murder is down significantly. After Mayor Landrieu was re-elected, after my 34 years of service, and my decision to retire, we both recognized that it was time to hand the reigns over to new leadership in the department. I will be retiring to pursue other opportunities. As a native New Orleanian, there is nothing I am more committed to doing than ensuring the success of this department and the safety of our city, and I can assure you that I will continue to be involved in that fight.”

Mayor Landrieu thanked Serpas for his dedication to the city and for his efforts to build a foundation for the future for the New Orleans Police Department.

“Making our city safe is my top priority, and I am proud to have worked with Chief Serpas over the past four years as he led this department through very challenging circumstances and turned this department around,” Mayor Landrieu said. “I want to thank Chief Serpas and his family for their service and sacrifice. Chief Serpas inherited a department in disarray with several federal investigations and deep budget problems. There was no crime lab and rape kits collected dust on shelves. We’ve made significant progress and have begun to fix many of the fundamentals. Most significantly, through NOLA FOR LIFE, we have overseen a significant reduction in murder. I am confident that with this foundation, we will have success in transforming our department and making New Orleans a safer place to live, work and visit.”

Since Mayor Landrieu took office and Chief Serpas was appointed, homicides have dropped to a nearly 30-year low under the NOLA FOR LIFE strategy to reduce murders. At the same time, overall crime has remained flat compared to the same period of time before Serpas’ tenure, all while experiencing decreasing manpower and an increase in population and visitor numbers. As part of NOLA FOR LIFE, NOPD beefed up its Homicide Unit and created a Multi- Agency Gang Unit in partnership with federal and state law enforcement agencies to focus additional resources on the groups of individuals who continue to distribute drugs and commit acts of violence in our neighborhoods.

Under Serpas, the NOPD improved the rate of convictions from felony arrests by better coordinating with the District Attorney, and it significantly increased the use of summonses in lieu of arresting low level state misdemeanor and municipal offenders to reduce the strain on the jail population and to keep officers in neighborhoods. NOPD also improved acceptance rates and clearance rates. In addition, Chief Serpas implemented several measures to improve the NOPD’s relationship with the community, including creating Community Coordinating Seargent positions in each district to work on nuisance issues, build formal communication channels with neighborhoods and help rebuild trust with the department. As part of the consent decree, Police Community Advisory Boards (PCAB) were also created.

Serpas implemented tough accountability standards for employee misconduct and worked with various partners to clear the backlog of rape kits and ballistics and DNA testing. He implemented the use of state- of-the-art software programs and strategies to deploy and realign police resources geographically in the NOPD for the first time in more than 40 years, which also included the use of new technology to revamp the NOPD’s COMSTAT process. Chief Serpas led the NOPD during an unrivaled series of major sporting and cultural events held in New Orleans including Super Bowl XLVII, NCAA Mens’ and Women’s Final Fours, and several safe and successful Mardi Gras celebrations. He also led the department through tropical storms and Hurricane Isaac.

Chief Serpas has participated and contributed on the national and international level of police leadership, serving as the Second Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The IACP is the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit membership organization of police executives, with over 21,000 members representing 100 countries.

Prior to returning to New Orleans, Serpas served as Chief of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department for six years, where he oversaw a reduction in violent crime each year under his tenure. Prior to that, he served as Chief of Police for the Washington State Patrol.

Prior to his tenure in Washington, Chief Serpas began his career in June 1980 with the NOPD rising through all civil service ranked positions, and was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Police and the first Chief of Operations in October 1996, charged with implementing wide scale organization restructuring, initiating the Compstat model in the NOPD and leading all patrol, investigative, special response units and community-policing functions. He was the #2 in command under former NOPD Superintendent Richard Pennington. Serpas, a native New Orleanian, received his Doctorate in Urban Studies, with an emphasis in Urban Crime, from the University of New Orleans in May 1998. In addition to Chief Serpas’ law enforcement career, he has served as an Assistant Professor, Extraordinary Faculty, of Criminal Justice at Loyola University New Orleans, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses from 1993 to 2001.

Upon his departure, current Seventh District Commander Michael Harrison will be appointed as Interim Superintendent.

Mayor Landrieu said, “Commander Harrison has demonstrated strong, community-focused leadership during his tenure as Seventh District Commander. During this transition, I am confident he will be able to scale the focus on building trust with the community citywide to improve public safety.”

Commander Harrison has been with the NOPD for over 23 years. Harrison has served as Commander of Seventh District, overseeing police services for eastern New Orleans since January 2012. Under his watch, the 7th District experienced crime reductions in 2012 and 2013. He helped craft and testified in favor of a piece of legislation to enable better enforcement of prostitution and solicitation, which was a major problem in the district. From January 2011 to 2012, he served as Commander of the Special Investigations Division in which he managed the narcotics, vice, criminal intelligence and gang enforcement units of NOPD. He began with the NOPD in 1991, serving in various capacities and districts. He spent nearly a decade within the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau. Prior to joining the NOPD, Harrison served eight years with the Louisiana Air National Guard. He received a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix in 2006 and a Master of Criminal Justice from Loyola University in 2008. He is a member of IACP and the Police Executive Research Forum. Harrison, a resident of Algiers, also serves as an ordained minister and the overseer of ministry operations at City of Love Church in New Orleans.

Harrison said, “I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to help lead this department through this transition. I believe policing is one of the noblest professions. The men and women of this department put their lives on the line each and every day. Public safety is at the core of our city, intersecting with quality of life, education, economic development and community pride, so we must continue to work to improve the relationship between NOPD and our community and will continue to make our streets safer.”

At upcoming budgeting community meetings in each City Council district, Mayor Landrieu will seek input on important characteristics for the next Police Chief.

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