New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison on Wednesday named a new commander for the department’s Public Integrity Bureau, the internal watchdog unit charged with investigating allegations of officer misconduct.
Cmdr. Gwen Nolan, an 18-year veteran who previously served as a St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy, will manage investigations into officers’ use of force and possible misconduct. She will report to Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook.
Nolan takes over from Tami A. Brisset, who is retiring.
Surrounded by friends and family as she received her promotion, Nolan said she sees her new job as “an opportunity to help make a change and bring the department forward.”
The leadership shift comes as the department strives to meet the terms of a 2012 consent decree agreed upon with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The federal consent decree monitors and the city’s Independent Police Monitor’s Office are currently conducting a review of the PIB’s handling of civilian complaints about racial profiling. In their most recent quarterly report, the federal monitors also noted they had prodded the PIB to further examine complaints about mishandled rape and domestic violence investigations.
The NOPD received 870 misconduct complaints in 2014, a 12 percent drop from the year before, according to the report. NOPD disciplinary actions against officers were also down sharply in 2014, for unclear reasons.
Since taking over, Harrison has fired three officers as a result of PIB investigations: one for payroll fraud, one for shooting at an unarmed, fleeing civilian and one for hitting a civilian after a minor traffic accident.
Nolan received a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2006 from Loyola University, where she co-authored a paper on a topic of great interest to the badly shorthanded NOPD: the recruitment and retention of police officers.
Before her appointment to the PIB, she served as a platoon commander in the 4th District.
Dee Wood Harper, a professor emeritus of sociology and criminology at Loyola who served as an adviser for Nolan, described her as a “really conscientious, hardworking person” who was named graduate student of the year in 2006.
Harper expressed confidence that Nolan can handle the PIB’s highly politicized shoals — particularly the pressure that comes from being a cop charged with policing other cops.
“I know Gwen well enough to know she’s no-nonsense,” Harper said. “I don’t think you’ve got a problem at all. Whoever’s being investigated has a problem.”
Nolan’s direct style was on display Wednesday as television crews circled around her to attach microphones for her brief remarks.
“It’s nothing profound,” she joked, looking bemused at her turn before the cameras.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on April 22 to correct Nolan’s former employer.