The New Orleans Police Department changed from top to bottom on Wednesday as Superintendent Michael Harrison shifted several top commanders, presided over the graduation of a Training Academy class and welcomed a new batch of recruits in the continuing quest to rebuild the city’s depleted force.
Thirty-three men and women joined recruit class No. 173 in July, and on Wednesday, the 29 who made it through 28 weeks of training became full-fledged police officers.
With those new officers, as well as a new 34-member recruit class initiated in the afternoon, the NOPD now has a sworn headcount of 1,163.
The new recruit class, ushered in just before Dec. 31, ensured that for the first time in several years, the NOPD hired more officers than it lost in 2015. The department hired 136 new members in 2015 and lost 105 due to retirements, dismissals, deaths or failure to complete academy training.
The force’s manpower still stands far below the 1,500 officers it boasted in 2010, before a hiring freeze implemented by Mayor Mitch Landrieu as the city battled severe budget problems.
Academy Cmdr. Richard Williams singled out recruit Justin Jefferies for his performance in the class. Jefferies racked up awards in the academy for scholastic achievement, physical fitness and report writing.
“We enter law enforcement at a time when police are under an unprecedented microscope,” Jefferies said in an address to his class. “Our sacrifice will make our fellow citizens proud to support the NOPD.”
Earlier in the day, Harrison introduced 18-year veteran Paul Noel, who most recently has served as the 2nd District commander, as the department’s new deputy chief at a promotion ceremony. In addition to overseeing the Uptown district, Noel also has led the department’s politically charged re-examination of sex crimes cases that were called into question a year ago in an inspector general’s report.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said Criminal Investigations Division Cmdr. Doug Eckert will now oversee the ongoing sex crimes review.
Noel succeeds now-retired Deputy Chief Bob Bardy, whose last day was Monday, in the department’s No. 2 post. Bardy was not present for the promotion ceremony, but Harrison and other department brass thanked him for his 41 years of service.
The NOPD also announced that John Thomas, a 24-year veteran who has been commander of the unit overseeing a sweeping reform of the department under a federal consent decree, will become a deputy chief in charge of the Management Services Bureau. That bureau oversees the Training Academy, Administrative Duties Division, fleet management, personnel and human resources.
Thomas replaces Stephanie Landry, who will take over management of the department’s budget.
A source with knowledge of the shakeup said one reason for Thomas’ elevation to deputy chief will be to closely oversee progress at the Training Academy. Federal monitors tracking progress on the consent decree said in October that changes there were being made “too slowly,” although they mostly blamed manpower shortages and praised Williams, the academy commander, for his commitment.
Harrison said he went through the academy with Thomas’ brother, Joseph, who was killed while serving a narcotics warrant in 1996.
Thomas recalled that he had difficult conversations with his relatives after the shooting about whether to continue on the force.
“Joey would be extremely, extremely, extremely proud of you today,” Harrison said to nods of agreement from Thomas’ family.
Otha Sandifer, the 22-year veteran who has been commander of the 1st District, will take Thomas’ place as commander of the Compliance Division, which oversees implementation of the department’s reform pact with the federal government. He will serve under the division’s civilian deputy chief, Tim Averill, who was hired in July.
Among other compliance duties, Sandifer will oversee the implementation of lingering reforms to the NOPD’s once-controversial system of off-duty paid details. In 2011, according to a Times-Picayune article at the time, then-Superintendent Ronal Serpas ordered Sandifer suspended for three days for violating department policy by forming a company to run private details.
Seventeen-year veteran Hans Ganthier, assistant commander of the 5th District, will take over for Sandifer in the 1st District, which covers Mid-City and Treme.
Current 4th District Cmdr. Shaun Ferguson, meanwhile, will move across the river from Algiers to Uptown to fill Noel’s shoes in the 2nd District. Ferguson is a 17-year veteran.
Ferguson’s second-in-command, 19-year veteran Ceasar Ruffin, is being promoted to lead the 4th District.