Why Seek The Job Anyway?

Besides the very attractive salary, why would anyone want to serve as police chief in the city of New Orleans?  With a rapidly dwindling police force and its chronic violent crime history, the assignment is a daunting challenge to even the best crime fighters.  Complicating matters even more are the lingering federal consent decree requirements, and ongoing power struggles between Mayor Latoya Cantrell and several members of the City Council.

Still, 33 foolhardy souls applied for this most impossibly thankless position. On October 11, Anne Kirkpatrick braved council chambers to present her ideas on how to turn NOPD around and produce a safer city. She was selected by the mayor to be the new police chief for the duration of Cantrell’s second and final mayoral stint.

Thanks to a city charter change that passed in November 2022 with almost 62% of the vote, the City Council now has the authority to approve or disapprove certain new key mayoral appointees through a public vetting process.  Similar approval processes exist in 20 other cities around the country from Baltimore to Los Angeles per a study by the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR)  .

New NOPD Police Chief Vetting Process

Kirkpatrick, accompanied by Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano, grinded through a long slide presentation in council chambers.  Had she been allowed to complete her presentation and then entertain questions at the end, she might have fared better.  No dice, though. Council President J.P. Morrell made it clear from jump street that council members preferred to ask questions throughout.

This critical appointment took months. And after this extensive search process a meager 15 or so citizens cared enough to appear and speak before the City Council.  Not one public speaker came to endorse Ms. Kirkpatrick, although a few cards were read from tepid supporters who couldn’t muster the courage to voice their support in person.

Related: How to Fix NOPD
Kirkpatrick and WC Johnson

No surprise there if you follow council and committee meetings. Council chambers are frequented by a small but familiar collection of bombastic characters, not the least of which is Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste. As soon as he was allowed to speak, he disrespectfully referred to Kirkpatrick as “granny”. Another regular hellraiser commented that since Kirkpatrick hailed from Tennessee, she must consider black folks as the “n” word. Many less-traveled New Orleanians erroneously think that Louisiana is more racially progressive than other southern states. Having lived briefly in both Georgia and Mississippi, I conclude that racial attitudes in those states are no worse than those in many parts of Louisiana. 

New NOPD Police Chief Vetting Process

Kirkpatrick might be approved by the full council on October 19 as the next police chief, though not unanimously. She has the preferred level of experience. But Ms. Kirkpatrick has a frail physical presence, is soft-spoken and rather uninspiring. And at 64, she is in the twilight of her work career.  She’s not a native of New Orleans, which for many citizens is an automatic disqualification. She’s also not African-American, yet seeks to lead a beleaguered police force in a city more than 60% black. And some council members stated clearly that they prefer interim chief Michelle Woodfork, a 31 year veteran of NOPD.

A starting minimum salary of 274k is, I guess, worth all these troubles. CAO Montano quipped, tongue-in-cheek, that “Change has many enemies in New Orleans”. Let’s hope that this change results in better policing and less crime.  

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