SAYS TRUST, RESPECT BETWEEN COPS AND COMMUNITY ARE KEY TO A SAFER CITY
by Robert Gagnier
Freelance writer Robert Gagnier recently sat down with NOPD Officer Darrell Doucette for a Q&A for The New Orleans Tribune. Doucette and several other NOPD detectives are featured in a recent season of “The First 48”, an A&E reality-television crime show that emphasizes the importance of homicide detectives getting the leads they need to solve murder cases within the first 48 hours for the best chance at naming a suspect and making an arrest.
One of the cases in which Doucette was instrumental in solving and that gained national attention as a result of the show was the September 2013 triple murder of NOPD dispatcher Christine George and her two adult children, Trisa and Leonard. About a week later George’s live-in boyfriend and the father of her 18-year-old son Leonard, was arrested and charged with the murders.
Here, Doucette talks about his work at NOPD, the importance of communication between cops and the community as well as some of the triumphs and challenges he has faced during his 23-year career with NOPD, including a shooting while on the job that left both him and a former partner critically injured.
ROBERT GAGNIER: As you were growing up in the 7th ward, who had the biggest influence on your life in terms of being a detective for NOPD?
DARRELL DOUCETTE: It was a combination of my Uncle Roland Doucette and cousin Ronald Doucette, who joined NOPD back in the 70’s. Ronald was promoted through the ranks and he became the Deputy Superintendent. He retired, and now he is the chief of the Delgado Community College Police Department. When I came on the job back in 1991, I was the tenth Doucette in the NOPD at the same time. My uncle Roland was a former homicide detective and I can remember how he shared different stories with me on how he solved his cases and what he did throughout the investigations. My cousin Ronald was chief of detectives, and I was able to go to him for advice on many occasions as well.
RG: As a detective with 20 plus years now with NOPD, most would assume that you have seen and heard it all. Is there anything that surprises you?
DD: Yes, there are actually a lot of things that surprise me today. One of the things (and I am speaking strictly from my own personal experience) is that, you cannot solve anything without the community. If you have a community that works with you and they trust you, there isn’t a crime out there that can’t be solved—not one. When you go about interviewing someone or a group of people, you shouldn’t try to bulldog your way through the conversation. Now you do have some officers whose egos won’t allow them to do that, but the vast majority can and they will be the ones who solve their cases because the community talks. Everybody wants to be able to trust the police; even your local neighborhood drug dealers if only to rid themselves of the competition. We must show the public that you can trust us. Once that trust factor is there, your community becomes an encyclopedia of knowledge. But it is still surprising that even to this day, a few officers have yet to grasp that. It is getting better. Relations are improving between the officers and their respective communities, but it isn’t quite at the level where it needs to be just yet.
RG: Back in ‘95 you and your partner Errol Sidney were shot and seriously wounded. What impact did that have on you as a young officer?
DD: I would have to say that particular experience was the absolute worst that I have ever had to deal with. Shot in my pectoral, the bullet went out and then back into my chest. It then proceeded to go out my side and then through my back. My partner sustained three wounds. He was shot in the face. That bullet lodged in the back of his neck, very close to his spine. He was fortunate enough not to become paralyzed. He was also shot in his elbow, and then in his upper thigh (near) his knee. Today (May 30) is actually the anniversary of the day Errol and I came under fire. And so what I have done in the past (along with Errol when he is in town on occasion) is to go out to the academy classes and tell them about that shooting scenario in an effort to try to help them with their street survival skills. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. Well, I can tell you that I know that I am one of God’s children after that incident. The bullet had severed my partner’s jugular vein, and so after being shot, I noticed that Errol had a stream of blood shooting out of his neck. Now as God would have it, there were two ambulances sitting less than half a mile from where we were. The doctors who treated us would later say that he survived as a result of me being able to quickly put pressure on that wound, and also the fact that the EMTs were able to get to him so fast.
RG: What do you feel are some of the biggest misconceptions that the public at large has regarding law enforcement?
DD: This is again my personal opinion, but some of the public seem to think that we are all bad, no good and horrible—you name it. And so what you have to understand is that you cannot wear your emotions or feelings on your sleeves. Once you sign your name on that dotted line, your job is now to protect and serve. And you have to find a way to be able to deal with all levels of mental anguish that you may come across. You have to be able to provide the same sort of protection that you would want your mother or grandmother to have. If you do that, you’ll be fine.
RG: How have the evolution of DNA and the world of forensics influenced the way you and your team go about solving crimes?
DD: Well before, when DNA testing wasn’t as popular. It was hit and miss because it was so new. But now it is without a doubt our best friend.
RG: As the lead detective in “The First 48” episode titled “Heartless,” which was centered on that triple murder of a mother and her two children, what were your thoughts about the “First 48” before it came to New Orleans?
DD: I used to love the show and watched it all the time. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if certain aspects of the show were staged; but once they came down, I realized that none of the show was staged. I then had a greater appreciation for it. “First 48” is the real deal—trust me.
RG: Can you give any update on the case?
DD: We will probably go to trial in a few years, and so there are no updates now. The suspect (Shawn Peterson) is being held at Orleans Parish Prison.
RG: Do you feel it was beneficial for yourself, other detectives and the NOPD in general to be a part of the show? In short, is “First 48” a good thing?
DD: In my opinion it’s an excellent thing. The family members of the victims need and can obtain a more permanent type of closure via the video of the show itself. For them to be able to visualize that closure and see the perp being arrested and ultimately sent to jail, maybe, just maybe, that can be a source to aid in the healing process. That show gets two thumbs up. It’s 100 percent legit.
RG: Where do you get your single greatest source of satisfaction from?
DD: Seeing the family with that last embrace. That’s why I put so much energy and passion into my work—to see that the victims’ family gets their closure. If they get their closure, that’s where I get my happiness from.
RG: What does the future hold for Det. Doucette now?
DD: Well, I have a ways before retirement but am looking forward to possibly writing a book on my life, career and being a part of the Doucette legacy at NOPD.