As news of NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ retirement began spreading across the city, decision makers and others who closely follow the department gave mixed reactions to his departure:
Stacy Head, City Council president:
“The chief came into a situation that was almost untenable. No chief could have done any better with regard to the consent decree. It put him in a very difficult position and he carried that weight admirably.”
Jason Williams, at-large city councilman:
“This is the right move for our police force and our city. Police morale is at an all-time low. This is particularly troubling given our need for police recruitment and retention. Further, crime continues to be a top concern for most citizens. When it comes to crime, it isn’t just about statistics, it is about people feeling safe in their homes and throughout the city. Changing the leadership of our police force is a step in the right direction.”
Greg Rusovich, business leader and past chairman of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation and the Business Council:
“I would say this is a serious loss and a setback. I see no way to couch this in some political terminology and spin. Chief Serpas has tremendous qualifications, and he brought those to the job. He worked tenaciously and he cared. He was working with an inadequate number of officers and resources in a very difficult time in the city, and despite that, he was able to hold it together.
“There is no way to spin this in a positive manner. In my view, he was an outstanding police chief and we’ll sorely miss him.”
Norris Henderson, a leader of Safe Streets Strong Communities and Voice of the Ex-Offender:
“I’m very excited. He was hired to decrease the murders going on in the city. And that hasn’t happened since he’s been in office, even with all the money the City Council poured into the police budget. We’re still having police officers going to jail every week; still having officers leaving; we still have the attrition.
“We have people shot in bunches now; we’re not just having the solo incident. We’re having incidents where five or six people are being injured, and we’re fortunate when maybe only one or two of them are dying.
“The crime rate hasn’t changed. It’s just how it’s being reported. Like when the police shot someone a week ago and didn’t tell anyone about it. We’re not seeing all the information the public should be privy to. They’re trying to pad their books. I’m glad he’s gone.”
Donovan Livaccari, attorney and spokesman for the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge:
“It seems as though there’s been a fairly chilly relationship with City Hall for a little while now.
“I think the morale in the department took a severe tumble over the last few years. I think Serpas came in as a reform chief and the consent decree deprived him of the ability to be a reform chief.
“The manpower has been a huge issue and the public recognizes it as a huge issue. Now whether that was really his fault or the fault of budgetary constraints, I guess it’s really irrelevant as far as public opinion.
“Being a reform chief was kind of his thing. He liked to always say he was an agent of change. He wasn’t able to implement any change because all the changes were forced upon him from outside forces. He never had the opportunity to achieve his goals.”
Raymond Burkart III, former attorney for the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge
“I find it completely dishonorable and a slap in the face to higher-ranking officers, including current and former deputy chiefs, to promote a lieutenant to superintendent of police. It’s another shotgun blast to morale, which already is paper-thin and hanging by shreds.”
Michael Cowan, chairman of the New Orleans Crime Coalition:
“What I would mainly say is that first, he was the unanimous choice of the search committee in 2010. I think he’s by far the most serious proponent we’ve ever had in the NOPD of community policing. It seemed to me that he knows the best things going on in contemporary policing and he was always ready to adopt those. And he restructured the process for selecting top level NOPD leadership in a way that I thought was very constructive.
“Another thing that stands out is that the chief and the district attorney have worked out a very respectful and effective mutual relationship, and it’s clearly made a difference in terms of getting from arrest to conviction more efficiently. I hope and assume that relationship will continue (with whoever follows Serpas) because it’s a key one in criminal justice.
“The Crime Coalition does a survey of citizen attitudes every six months. We’ve done it nine times now, the first time being at the end of the Nagin administration in 2009. Back then the number of people who were satisfied with the department was at 33 percent. The number is at 60 percent now. I would attribute most of that to Serpas’ leadership.”
Tamara Jackson, director of Silence is Violence:
“We’re glad the resignation has happened. Under him, there has been decreased morale in the department. Staffing has dwindled down to nothing under his leadership. There have been several officers reprimanded unfairly. We believe he was not the right person to lead the department from the beginning. On the other hand, I can honestly say that he did encourage his staff to communicate with our organization.”
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission:
“The biggest issues facing the Police Department are still there for the next chief, Michael Harrison. It wasn’t Chief Serpas’ decision not to hire officers for last five years; the department is still facing a consent decree, and some of the attendant morale issues — everything from the reform of detail system to all of the other requirements of the consent decree — all of those things weigh on the morale of the office. And all of those issues are still in place this afternoon.
“The passing of the guard doesn’t mean the problems that have beset the Police Department are fixed. It just means there will be someone else responsible for moving the department forward.
“Someone in law enforcement who I respect told me, when Mitch was looking for a chief, he said, ‘Mitch needs to be looking not for one but two chiefs. Because the first one is going to be so unpopular because of the things that have to be done that at some point it’s going to be necessary to make a change.’ Now, the change in this case was necessitated by another employment opportunity.
“Ultimately, in many respects, police chiefs don’t control their own destiny. They’re appointed rather than elected. They don’t have hiring or firing authority because of civil service requirements, and they basically have to play the hand that’s been dealt them by political superiors, from a budgetary standpoint and, in many respects, a policy standpoint. Probably the biggest limiting policy decision that was made was not to hire police officers, and that is something Chief Harrison is going to have to deal with moving forward.
“I think the city owes Chief Serpas their appreciation for his service. I think he did more with less than any chief in the past 36 years. I think not too many people could have matched his accomplishments given the circumstances he inherited in this department.”
Peter Scharf, Tulane criminologist:
“I think his legacy will be known for addressing issues of integrity, which have built public confidence in the Police Department. He took the department from mass opprobrium to quite a sense of strong integrity.
Latoya Cantrell, District B city councilwoman:
“I want to thank Chief Serpas for his years of service during a difficult transition period, involving the consent decree, a deepening morale problem within NOPD’s rank and file and our battle against violent crime in New Orleans. I look forward to working with the interim chief Lt. Michael Harrison, the mayor, the council and city and community leaders to rebuild and strengthen NOPD’s morale and to make our streets safer, ensuring that we have a chief and police department that is a part of the community it seeks to protect and serve.”
Jared Brossett, District D city councilman:
“Over his tenure, Chief Serpas furthered the department’s commitment to community policing, implemented the federal consent decree, and saw a reduction in the city’s post-Katrina homicide rate. As a Louisiana legislator, I worked with Chief Serpas on legislation to issue more summonses in lieu of arrests for minor offenses. For this and his other achievements, I commend the superintendent. And I wish him the best in his future endeavors.
“Looking forward for the NOPD, I offer my full support to Interim Superintendent Michael Harrison, formerly the 7th District commander. As we all know, the department has many challenges before it. At this time, I ask that all of my constituents in District D and all New Orleanians join me in supporting and offering our full backing to Interim Chief Harrison as he takes on the tremendous tasks before him.”
Susan Hutson, independent police monitor
“We trust that Commander Harrison will do what is necessary to win the confidence of officers and the community and, if necessary, to transition that trust to whoever is chosen as the permanent superintendent of police. In the coming weeks, (my office) intends to share with the mayor and City Council the best practices and recommendations about the search and selection process and the qualifications a police superintendent may need to help NOPD through this difficult period of flux and reform.”