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NOPD's New Back-up QB 

Not since Police Superintendent Richard Pennington re-negotiated his contract for a golden parachute has there been so much gossip about command changes at the NOPD.

Sources at both City Hall and the department say that this week Pennington will announce a successor to former assistant superintendent Ronal Serpas, who starts his new job Wednesday (Aug. 1) as chief of the Washington State Patrol. His last day at NOPD was July 27.

The No. 2 person is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the department, including the administration of discipline and oversight of the department's weekly COMSTAT meetings, during which district commanders are held accountable for crime trends tracked by computer. Whoever follows Serpas will take command at a time of resurgent crime rates, hiring and retention woes, lagging salaries, and increased political demands on the department for protection with the coming campaign season for mayor and the city council.

So who will be the next No. 2 commander at the New Orleans Police Department? By late last week, sources say, NOPD's back-up quarterback battle had whittled down to two men, both New Orleans natives with more than 20 years of NOPD experience: Deputy Superintendent Maj. Duane Johnson and Capt. Jerry Ursin of the Public Integrity Division (PID).

Appointed deputy chief in 1993 by then-police chief Joseph Orticke, Johnson is in charge of the Technical Services Bureau, overseeing the department's fleet of vehicles and other equipment. He has extensive experience in both police command assignments and administration. Supporters say he is honest and polices "by the book." Critics call him rigid. Friends and foes alike within the NOPD have nicknamed him "Dudley Do-Right."

Transferred to PID in April, Ursin is perhaps best known as a former commander of the Vieux Carre District, a diverse district known for feuding neighborhood factions and political pressure groups. Ursin is "a taskmaster with a kick-ass side," says one veteran NOPD insider. He is viewed as more flexible than Johnson.

Yet critics say Ursin lacks administration experience. The grandson of Jules Ursin, a police driver in the 1960s for then-NOPD Chief Joe Giarrusso Sr., Ursin is also more politically connected than the average cop, a quality which garners both admiration and disdain from other cops. One source says Ursin may enjoy the support of a number of law enforcement politicians such as District Attorney Harry Connick; Ursin also has worked as a personal bodyguard for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.

If Johnson wins the No. 2 spot, Ursin may slide into Johnson's old slot at TSB, sources say.

One of the big surprises in the battle for the No. 2 spot was the fading fortunes of 1st District Capt. Eddie Compass, who has long been mentioned as Pennington's successor. Popular with the public and cops under his command, Compass may have lacked the right kind of political support for the post -- at least this time around.

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