We Need an Outsider for the New Chief
Conventional wisdom says Mayor LaToya Cantrell should promote interim NOPD Chief Michelle Woodfork to permanent chief. Listen to talk radio across the political spectrum and universally people make the same argument. New Orleans is unique. We need somebody who understands the city and the culture. And she has not done a bad job since being elevated to interim chief. Plus it takes a full two years to get to know the culture. So hiring somebody from outside is a waste of time because the mayor’s term expires in about two years. But there are 5 reasons why this is flawed and wrong.
NOPD Chief Should be an Outsider
- Woodfork has not been transformational. Heard of any new creative ideas? Seen a new deployment strategy? Most say she has not done a bad job. Well, the city needs better than just ok. The NOPD is in crisis. Too many are leaving and not enough are joining. Chief Woodfork seems slightly undersized for the job. NOPD needs a new big and powerful leader. Instead, Chief Woodfork seems confined by the culture she knows and has grown up in.
- Richard Pennington was the last great chief. People would literally stand and cheer when he walked into restaurants around town. He took over and transformed the culture almost immediately. Not tied to the NOPD culture, Pennington immediately implemented new ideas. Having no connection or allegiance to the staff, Pennington shifted personnel and changed long-standing traditions. The biggest quick one was to stop officers from working details at bars. Officers railed, citizens were shocked, but crime and corruption went down quickly. Only an outsider with fresh eyes and new ideas can do this.
- The last great local chief, Eddie Compass commanded confidence and projected strength. Compass was smart, hardworking and had good ideas. And though he grew up in the NOPD culture, his big warrior personality and smooth political acumen helped him lead the department. Unfortunately for Compass, Hurricane Katrina’s chaos interrupted his tenure. Even as he was unceremoniously ushered out by the Nagin administration, Compass looked powerful and assured. Whereas Chief Woodfork seems like she is playing not to lose. Her very presence seems calculated for least possible error. But the city deserves to win.
- The selection of a new police chief is the most important issue in New Orleans today. Crime is the number one issue. Always. And the chief selection process is new. Never has the city council had any input on the mayor’s police chief selection. Previously the mayor simply presented her choice. Now the city council must approve it. Oddly, the new process does not allow the council to appoint or submit any candidates. But the opportunity to grandstand and be seen is like no other. “I want to save all the babies and puppies,” some city council member is sure to say. No matter who is selected, members of the council will object.
- But, the best way to transform the NOPD is from somebody outside the current force. That person is free from the NOPD culture issues. That person does not have friends who want favors or promotions. An outsider brings new ideas without baggage. An outsider has different experience about what works. Officers expect new direction and culture shifts from an outsider. It is easier for an outsider to change the course of any department. For NOPD a new direction is necessary.
NOPD Chief Should be an Outsider
Interim Chief Woodfork must be thanked for her service. She did a fabulous job as the interim chief. She held things together. Things did not get worse. She insured that officers performed well during Essence Fest. The department has not gone backward. Thank you Chief Woodfork for a job well done.
Now we need to move in a different direction with a new voice in the city.