Commentary: Attorney General Barney Fife_lowres


In a classic episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Andy Taylor leaves town for the day, turning law enforcement over to his hapless, preening deputy Barney Fife. When Andy returns, he finds Barney has arrested half the town on charges such as "unlawful assembly" (Aunt Bee gossiping with friends outside the courthouse) and expects praise for cracking down on crime in Mayberry.

  Turns out Louisiana has its own Barney Fife: Attorney General  Jeff Landry.

  Landry has mounted an unprecedented — and uninvited — law enforcement campaign in New Orleans that is clearly designed to get him more headlines than arrests. He's launched his own "Violent Crimes Task Force" (without coordinating with local or state law enforcement that already is here) dedicated to #MakeNewOrleansSafeAgain, a hashtag he promotes on social media. He came to town last week to tout the results his so-called task force had made in the last three months of 2016: 11 arrests.

  Eleven — in three months. Barney Fife managed to squeeze more people in the one-room Mayberry jail in one day. By comparison, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) logged 5,463 arrests during that same period. Moreover, four of Landry's collars were for marijuana possession; NOPD gives officers wide latitude in marijuana possession cases, freeing cops to concentrate on serious crimes.

  "Making New Orleans safer is about teamwork, not some self-serving political agenda," NOPD Chief Michael Harrison said in a letter to Landry. "The Attorney General has no legal authority to commission law enforcement officers to patrol in the city of New Orleans unchecked and unsupervised. The NOPD is a national leader in police reform and we will not allow anyone to attempt to police in New Orleans without the proper training and supervision from the NOPD."

  Harrison's letter evokes the federal consent decree, which Landry's calls a "hug a thug" program. No surprise there. Landry always has been about cheap slogans and self-promotion. In 2011, as a one-term congressman, he garnered headlines by holding up a sign reading "DRILLING = JOBS" during a jobs speech by President Barack Obama.

  "My agents stand ready to apprehend, arrest, and charge those who intend harm on the Crescent City and all of our State," Landry said in a statement (which referred to him as "General Landry"). "Frustrated by political games, I will continue working with my dedicated team to protect lives and our economy."

  What a laugh. If there's political gamesmanship here, it's from Landry, whose task force managed only 11 arrests in three months in a city noted for its crime rate. Landry continues to insist he currently has no plans to run for governor in 2019, but that's as believable as former Gov. Bobby Jindal's protestations that he wasn't running for president.

  New Orleans is not Mayberry. Our crime rate is real. But Landrieu and Harrison surely must envy Mayberry's Sheriff Taylor, who could handle the hot-dogging, grandstanding Barney by forcing him to carry one bullet — in his shirt pocket. That didn't keep Barney from shooting himself in the foot on occasion. We expect the same from "General Landry."