I was contacted by two reporters about stories they were writing about Mike Harrison’s first year as Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department.
Ken Daley of NOLA.COM wrote Harrison touts improved NOPD after first year as chief, others wary of mayor’s influence.
Matt Sledge of The New Orleans Advocate wrote NOPD chief Michael Harrison reckons with challenges on one-year anniversary.
Several people who read my response to these two reporters suggested that I should publish my comments in their entirety. I have also shared a copy of this complete text with Chief Harrison. The entirety of my response read as follows:
I have had the pleasure of knowing Mike Harrison before he was Superintendent of Police – before he was Commander of the 7th District. I have always known Chief Harrison as a smart and dedicated member of the NOPD. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but that is to be expected in my line of work. The upside to that is even when we disagreed, I knew that he was driven by integrity and principles.I admit I was a little concerned about the circumstances preceding his ascension to the fifth floor. Chief Serpas was a seasoned law enforcement CEO with two department’s worth of experience not to mention being Chief of Operations in New Orleans under Chief Pennington. Serpas, who was widely disliked, took the helm of the NOPD as Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police with a vision of what he thought the NOPD should look like.The Consent Decree and the financial difficulties in the City of New Orleans complicated the implementation of that vision and decisions made because of the city’s financial circumstances along with Chief Serpas’s personable demeanor led to morale issues that would outlast his tenure as Superintendent of Police. Mike Harrison, whose experience as a law enforcement executive consisted of his tenure as Commander of the 7th District, would find himself leading a department with critical staffing issues, morale problems, and a Consent Decree complete with Consent Decree Monitors who weren’t real happy with how an entire book of policies and procedures had been implemented during the prior administration and an Office of Police Secondary Employment which is still viewed as the “icing on the cake” to many NOPD officers.The biggest problem Chief Harrison faces, which we have been warning of for years, is the lack of police manpower. Unfortunately, the manpower problem will still exist when Chief Harrison retires. With a victory in that crucial area being the longest of shots, convincing the men and women of the NOPD that they should go above and beyond to make up for the shortage of officers becomes more and more difficult. In addition to the adverse impact of the manpower shortage, there is a prevalent perception among the troops that Mayor Landrieu is really managing the police department through Chief Harrison and by installing his own folks in high-level positions. This perception was furthered by the creation of a Deputy Chief of Staff position and filling that position with a former member of the Mayor’s innovation team. There is also the Great Place to Work Initiative which has introduced uncertainty and subjectivity into a promotions system which previously was relatively transparent and objective while allowing a fair amount of flexibility for the CEO. Chief Harrison had his work cut out for him a year ago and still has his work cut out for him today.In the face of those challenges, among others, there have been some successes — even if some of those successes were qualified successes. The Department and the City have committed to recruiting additional officers. The men and women of the NOPD received the first pay raise since 2007. The 5% pay raise – which led to NOPD employees not receiving the 1.25% merit based pay raise given to all other city employees except NOFD – was widely viewed as insufficient, particularly in light of increased to health care premiums and pension contributions. Chief Harrison was able to secure two additional pay raises of 5% each – two steps in the right direction.Chief Harrison has held award ceremonies, which is always good for a bump in morale. He also made promotions, which is also usually good for a bump in morale. Unfortunately, #62 on the lieutenants register was promoted while half of the top 10 candidates were not promoted. These decisions, made without any explanation, cloud what would otherwise be a positive development.One of the most valuable achievements thus far has been Chief Harrison’s ability to improve relations with members of the community, in spite of heavy backlogs and excessive response times attributable to the manpower shortage. There have also been improvements in equipment and availability of overtime. There are glimpses of sunshine making it through the tall weeds. The trick is convincing the folks doing the heavy lifting that there is more sunshine than dark clouds and that the weather will only be improving. It is a lot to ask.I have no doubt that Mike Harrison will continue to work hard at making the NOPD a better place to work and a better tool with which to serve the community. I also have no doubt that there will be additional improvements in some areas. What remains to be seen is whether these successes will be enough to overcome the perception that Chief Harrison doesn’t get to make the big decisions, the questions about promotions, Commanders that aren’t chosen through the merit based system of employment, and the other impediments inherited from the previous administration. While I think that Chief Harrison has an overly optimistic view of the current state of morale within the NOPD, I believe that his first year as Superintendent qualifies as movement in the right direction.