We are not at all sure how Mayor LaToya Cantrell will move as it relates to selecting a new NOPD superintendent.

Earlier this week, Supt. Shaun Ferguson, a 24-year veteran of the department announced that he would be stepping down from his post and into retirement to spend more time with his family, effective Thursday, Dec. 22.

NOPD Supt. Shaun Ferguson will retire effective 11:00 a.m. on Dec. 22, and we say Mayor Cantrell should announce his replacement at 11:01 a.m.

While we thank him for his nearly two and half decades of service to the City and its people and wish him the very best as he moves into this new chapter of his life, we also recognize that he is leaving a void in what is arguably the most important appointment any mayor of New Orleans makes in his or her role as CEO of the city at a very unusual and unique time.

Decisions, Decisions

Will Mayor Cantrell pick someone before Jan.1, 2023, making what would probably be the last unilateral appointment of a high-ranking member of her administration?

Or will she name a potential successor after Jan. 1, 2023, when the change to the New Orleans Home Rule Charter that requires City Council approval of certain mayoral appointees takes effect?

If her post-Nov. 8 election statement is any indication, Mayor Cantrell might be willing to wait until after the new year to select her candidate for the city’s top law enforcement job. Although she was not in favor of the proposed ordinance, she appears to have accepted the will of the voters.

In the statement, released the day after the election, she said, “We also must recognize the voters of New Orleans for making your voice heard while continuing to participate in our great democracy. In January, our Home Rule Charter will change. This change will require the New Orleans City Council to approve the appointment of 14 department directors going forward. In my role as Mayor, I will continue to put forth highly qualified candidates for these positions in order to best serve our residents and I look forward to engagement between my administration and the City Council through the appointment process.”

If some members of the City Council had their way, New Orleans might be without a top cop for some time, as Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno has already called for a national search for the next NOPD chief and seems eager to put the new Council approval process to work.

In her statement post Ferguson’s retirement announcement, Moreno said, “Moving forward, there should be a national search for a new police chief to find the best candidate to lead the NOPD. We must ensure that the next chief commits to upholding constitutional policing and transforming the department. That is why any chosen candidate for chief must adhere to the City Council confirmation process widely endorsed by the voters of the City. It would be disingenuous to the appointee and the people of this city if there were any attempt to circumvent this process, therefore, I am looking forward to the opportunity to engage the public in a community discussion on this important next step.”

Despite the certainty in the tone of her statement, Moreno’s is incorrect to state that any chosen candidate must adhere to the City Council confirmation process. That is only true of any appointment made on or after Jan. 1. As of today (Dec. 8), there are 24 days between now and then. And a lot can happen in 24 days.

Of course, Mayor Cantrell would create a sense of cooperation and plenty of good will if she waited until Jan. 1 to name her candidate to succeed Ferguson’s successor. Or she could exercise her power as Mayor and choose the next police chief before the charter change is effective.

It’s a good thing that we have busied ourselves with publishing a monthly newsmagazine over here at The New Orleans Tribune because we do not envy having to make such tough decisions such as the one Mayor is facing.

But . . . if we did . . . that is, hypothetically speaking . . . have a say in selecting when the next superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department would be appointed, our vote would be some time between now and long before the fleur de lis drops in Jackson Square and fireworks light the riverfront skyline.

In other words, we say the Mayor should pick the next NOPD Superintendent while she can before this charter change goes into effect. Here’s three reasons why:

  1. Crime is out of control — at least that what folk keep saying. And even if it isn’t out of control and the worst it has ever been, few would argue that violent crime is not an issue in New Orleans, just as it is for other major cities around the country. With that, we think it would be a bad move to draw out this selection for the sake of politics. Strong leadership is needed to continue to guide the department as it meets daily challenges. And it ought to be someone already clear on the needs of the department and the people of New Orleans when it comes to policing.
  2. Continuity – The people of New Orleans and the men and women of NOPD, especially, need and deserve continuity, someone who will hit the ground running. We are not categorically opposed to a national search. In fact, one of the best superintendents that New Orleans has ever had, namely Richard Pennington, was the result of a national search. Still, we are exhausted by this constant need to always look outside of ourselves, our city and its people for someone with something presumed to be more superior than what we have right here at home. There are dedicated men and women who have served NOPD and New Orleans for decades. Surely there is a solid choice among Ferguson’s current deputy chiefs, precinct commanders or other top NOPD leaders. If there isn’t, we should just throw the entire police department away. And if there is, let’s not any waste time putting that person in place.
  3. No Time for Politics — Yes, we get that the people have spoken and overwhelmingly supported the charter change. That does not change our position that the original proposal for this new process of selecting top mayoral appointees was politically-motivated and sprang from a false narrative designed to suggest there was a problem where none existed. Our position that this new appointment process will create red tape and more problems than it solves has not changed either. We will say it again because we firmly believe it: no City Council, least of all the one currently in place, should be choosing mayoral appointees. Selecting Ferguson’s successor while she can is the best thing Mayor Cantrell could do for NOPD, her administration and the people of New Orleans.

By the way, a national search would be a waste of time and resources. The police superintendent serves as at the pleasure of the Mayor, meaning anyone that Cantrell hires or nominates would likely depart soon after the inauguration of the next mayor at the start of 2026. So let’s say that a thorough national search would take at least four months (if doesn’t take this long, then it wasn’t a thorough search), then tack on another two or three months for the Council approval process. It is safe to say that NOPD will be without a permanent commander for at least six or seven months, with the appointment happening sometime in the middle of 2023 at the earliest. And that is a conservative estimate. Assuming everything goes smoothly with the process, the next police chief would then have about two and half years to truly lead the department and serve the people of New Orleans before they would exit with the election of a new mayor and that person’s nomination and appointment of a new police chief. And then what? A brand new national search? Another drawn out, ambiguous City Council confirmation process while New Orleans battles violent crime?

Of course, the newly elected mayor could decide to keep the superintendent in place. Wait . . . is that why Moreno wants a national search now? Could that be why she is insistent that the not-yet effective Council approval process be used in choosing the next superintendent . . . so she could actually choose the next police chief, possibly one that she would keep on if her 2025 bid for mayor is successful? A jumpstart, indeed.

Well, get in line, Councilwoman Moreno . . . wait your turn.

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