During the 2017 New Orleans mayoral election, eventual winner LaToya Cantrell said that, if elected, she’d conduct a national search for a police superintendent. So did her opponents. But none of them sounded like their hearts were in it.
Cantrell said at the time that Michael Harrison, the superintendent who served under outgoing Mayor Mitch Landrieu, would be welcome to apply, and never really pinpointed specific complaints about his tenure. The vibe was nothing like the election of Marc Morial, who knew much of his success would hinge on the eventual choice of reform-minded Richard Pennington -– or like when Landrieu took over after things reverted following Ray Nagin’s administration, and a big federal civil rights consent decree loomed (Landrieu first hired a former top Pennington deputy, Ronal Serpas, but later landed on Harrison, a career officer promoted from within).
There's been lots of discussion during the New Orleans mayoral campaign about crime, which regularly tops lists of issues that concern voters …
These were administration-defining hires, more akin to Cantrell’s choice of a new leader for the star-crossed Sewerage & Water Board, Ghassan Korban, than to her entirely telegraphed decision to keep Harrison around rather than disrupt things over at NOPD.
There was, and is, much to recommend Harrison, who was named the new head of Baltimore’s police force Tuesday. He’s a polite, calming presence, and he remained popular with voters despite constant concerns over crime. A poll taken for The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV during the mayoral election found he had a 60 percent approval rating, with just 21 percent disapproving. NOPD got strong ratings too, with 63 percent approving and 27 percent finding fault. Many consent decree-driven reforms have taking root on his watch. The department is hiring again after a damaging, budget-driven freeze early in Landrieu’s tenure, and the city closed out 2018 with a significant drop in the murder rate.
In turning to Harrison to lead a beleaguered force that’s in the much earlier stages of a federal consent decree, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh chose well.
Now, unexpectedly, it’ll be Cantrell’s turn to do the same.