New Orleans Police Department Cmdr. Doug Eckert, a 22-year veteran credited with restoring public trust in the force’s once-troubled sex crimes unit, died late Monday following a long battle with kidney cancer. He was 56.
Friends had urged Eckert — who had survived a prior bout with kidney cancer — to consider retiring after he received a terminal diagnosis about two years ago.
But he continued putting in 12-hour days until shortly before his retirement was announced Monday afternoon, just hours ahead of his death.
UPDATED: Longtime NOPD Commander Doug Eckert died Monday, hours after retirement, officials say
“All he wanted to be was a New Orleans policeman, and he had the drive to make a difference,” Eckert’s brother, Darryl Eckert, said Tuesday. “For every man who puts the uniform on, he should be their inspiration to put their right foot forward.”
Eckert was the youngest of four brothers growing up in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood. He attended St. Dominic School, Holy Cross High School and Loyola University. He joined the NOPD in 1997.
His former partner on the homicide investigation squad, Chris Billiot, said Eckert quickly showed a talent for navigating the NOPD's political waters.
Billiot recalled the time Eckert followed an order to meet a psychic who claimed she had information that would help him solve a murder. Eckert was correct in his prediction that the psychic had no such information — but he solved the case anyway, impressing the brass with both his obedience and his skill.
"I knew then he had a lot to offer the department," Billiot said.
Eckert required the removal of a cancer-stricken kidney shortly after Hurricane Katrina, returning to the job when the disease was declared in remission, Billiot said.
By 2014, he had worked his way up to commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, in charge of solving homicides, rapes and other major crimes.
He earned a reputation for fixing troubled units.
One was the sex crimes investigation squad, the subject of a scathing 2014 audit by then-Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux which found detectives could produce little evidence of actually investigating complaints. An internal investigation traced the problem to overworked, under-supervised detectives undermined by shifting mandates from a rotating cast of commanders.
Eckert took the unit’s reins, welcoming additional detectives, implementing new training, overhauling policies and procedures, and successfully seeking funding to speed up testing of sexual assault kits.
The number of rape cases reported to the NOPD nearly doubled in consecutive years, which victims' advocates attributed to more victims coming forward because they trusted their complaints would be handled appropriately.
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“It really took Doug in the trenches to make it happen — supporting his detectives, encouraging them in all their best police work, but also holding them accountable when anything fell short,” said Loyola University President Tania Tetlow, a former prosecutor who at one time directed the Tulane University Domestic Violence Clinic. “I’ve really not seen anyone do as much to change an institution as he did.”
Then, about the time Eckert was diagnosed with the fatal cancer in his other kidney, his homicide investigation unit’s clearance rate plummeted, as an undermanned group of detectives struggled to keep up with a steady barrage of slayings during the first half of 2017.
More turmoil ensnared the unit at the end of that year, when its top supervisor was stripped of his post amid a workplace harassment complaint.
Eckert ended up directly supervising the unit for the first three months of 2018, helping the detectives weather the storm until a permanent replacement was picked.
By December, New Orleans posted a 47-year low in the number of murders, as well as a significant drop in non-lethal shootings. One of the key factors cited by city leaders was improved efficiency from homicide investigators.
Eckert earlier this year had been assigned to another prominent role: commanding the NOPD’s 2nd District, which encompasses much of Uptown.
Darryl Eckert said his brother made it a point in the end to spend as much time as possible with his family or gardening at his Mandeville home.
Still, even as his health deteriorated and his weight dropped markedly, he loathed the idea of turning in his badge and gun, said Billiot, who constantly urged Eckert to join him in retirement.
"I would tell him to enjoy the time he had left, that the department wouldn't crumble without him," Billiot said. "But he would say, 'No, no, no — next year.'
"That's how he was. There was no clock watching. He worked until the job was done."
NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson named Cmdr. Jeff Walls to take command of the 2nd District, moving over from the 3rd District, which covers Lakeview, Gentilly and parts of Mid-City. Ryan Lubrano was promoted from homicide lieutenant to commander of the 3rd District.
Aside from his brothers, Eckert’s survivors include his wife, Rhonda; a daughter, Kylan; a son, Ryan; and his mother, Geri Landry.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.