New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison sent the commander of the Police Department’s training academy packing last week, days before a scheduled recruit class graduation, as the NOPD continues to try to correct what federal monitors describe as “significant ongoing weaknesses” in its training program.
Harrison ordered the transfer of Richard Williams to the Public Integrity Bureau in a move made effective Sunday. Williams retains his rank of lieutenant but loses his status as a commander.
Cmdr. Darryl Albert, who most recently served as head of the NOPD’s crime lab, is temporarily filling in as head of the academy.
“The chief is looking to put the right leadership in the right position to make sure that those areas are successful, and that’s what he did here,” said Tyler Gamble, a Police Department spokesman.
Gamble said the academy commander position “won’t be open very long.”
The Police Department has scheduled a graduation for 28 members of NOPD Recruit Class No. 174 on Friday. It’s the first graduation this year for the department, which is striving to hire and train more officers than it loses through retirements and resignations.
Williams previously served as director of the academy from 2007 to 2011. U.S. Justice Department investigators wrote in a March 2011 report that during interviews across NOPD ranks, they “heard the consistent complaint that the Training Academy routinely graduated police recruits who were sub-par and not fit for duty.”
Harrison apparently felt the academy’s faults did not lie with Williams. In one of his first acts after being named permanent chief in October 2014, Harrison appointed Williams to lead the academy again.
Since then, improvement remained elusive. Federal monitors overseeing the NOPD’s reform agreement with the federal government wrote in February that while they had seen progress, the academy “still needs significant attention.”
“The curriculum, lesson plans, instructor evaluations and even its 2016 master training plan all need work,” the monitors wrote.
Even before he stripped Williams of academy leadership, Harrison made moves that diluted his role. The Police Department is in the process of hiring a civilian director who, according to the monitors, “will take charge of all academic-related aspects of the academy.”
In December, Harrison also promoted the former head of the department’s Compliance Division, John Thomas, to deputy chief in charge of the bureau that encompasses the academy. The monitors said Harrison gave Thomas “specific direction to focus his attention on improving the academy.”