The news that New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Michael Harrison is heading to Baltimore to take charge of that city's police department should be no surprise. Baltimore — like New Orleans, a city with a staggering murder rate, police corruption and a federal consent decree — reportedly had been interested in Harrison since Catherine Pugh became that city's mayor two years ago.
For her part, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell never offered full-throated support for Harrison, who was put in the job by former Mayor Mitch Landrieu. In an interview with Gambit shortly before she took office in May 2018, Cantrell said Harrison had been an effective steward of the department's federal consent decree, but she wouldn't commit to either retaining him or replacing him, saying she wanted a "measurement tool to be able to assess him over the next two quarters of the year once I take office."
Cantrell never publicly announced that measurement tool, but a major metric of Harrison's performance as chief came at year's end: New Orleans saw its lowest murder rate in 47 years in 2018. Murders were down significantly in other troubled cities, like Chicago, but it's undeniable that murder went down under Harrison's stewardship, as did armed robberies. He also embraced the federal consent decree, swiftly dismissed cops who had assaulted a citizen outside a Mid-City bar and redeployed officers from desks to street duty. Under Harrison, police response times improved (though NOPD still has a long way to go), and polls showed most New Orleanians gave him high marks.
The surprise announcement Tuesday that Police Superintendent Michael Harrison will leave for Baltimore creates an opportunity for Mayor LaToya…
Harrison, a native New Orleanian, will face many challenges in Baltimore. He'll be the fifth superintendent in four years in a city where violent crime has proved stubbornly intractable. Distrust between Baltimore's citizens and cops peaked in 2015 after an African-American man, Freddie Gray, died after suffering injuries in police custody. Days of riots followed.
Landrieu and several New Orleans City Council members were fulsome in their praise of the departing chief after hearing news of his departure, as was District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. The DA cited Harrison's "impressive strides toward modernization and consistent constitutional policing, while at the same time coping with manpower shortages and other, more unique challenges of law enforcement in New Orleans." We agree.
As Cantrell searches for a new police chief, we hope she finds someone who will continue Harrison's outreach to the city's diverse constituencies and neighborhoods. (Just last week, NOPD conducted an online survey of Spanish-speaking and LGBTQ residents to gauge how they viewed the force and how NOPD could improve.) Above all, we hope Cantrell finds someone committed to the reforms of the consent decree while continuing to reduce New Orleans' violent crime rate, which, despite recent improvement, remains far too high.
"Serving as your police chief for the past four years has been the highest honor and privilege of my 28-year career with the New Orleans Police Department," Harrison said in a statement. "This city and its people will forever hold a special place in my heart."
Good luck to you, Chief Harrison — and good luck to Mayor Cantrell finding someone who will build upon his legacy.