An article appeared on NOLA.com today (3/9/16), with accompanying video, wherein NOPD Assistant Superintendent Arlinda Westbrook was quoted as saying that if NOPD officers have been involved in a recent shooting that involved JPSO deputies that those officers would have been arrested on the spot. She cited the NOPD policy which addresses the use of deadly force and moving vehicles as the reason why these hypothetical NOPD officers would have been arrested “on the spot.” These statements are ludicrous, reckless, and unnecessarily inflammatory. These statements bring disrepute to the department and in making these statements, Ms. Westbrook has proven that she is not fit to be a member of the New Orleans Police Department.
First of all, Ms. Westbrook has never been a police officer. Ms. Westbrook apparently has no concept of probable cause. We live, and police officers work, under the rule of law. People are not arrested or put in jail for violating policies, unless that violation is also a violation of the law. The law does not prohibit shooting at a moving vehicle when the vehicle is being used as a weapon. The fact that NOPD has a policy that addresses the use of force with regard to moving vehicles and JPSO does not have such a policy is neither here nor there. The analysis regarding the legality of the use of force is the same whether it happens in Jefferson Parish, Orleans Parish, or Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Every law enforcement officer has to have a thorough understanding of the basic concept of probable cause. Ms. Westbrook’s comments prove that she does not. It does not matter that Ms. Westbrook has been running the public integrity bureau now for years, she clearly is not fit for the job. In fact, it should raise questions about any case where a probable cause determination has been made by her office.
It is obvious that these statements were intended to placate the grieving family of an individual who was tragically lost in a scene that, although uncommon, seems to have been played time and time again on the local and national news. We received a statement from the NOPD indicating that Ms. Westbrook made an error in an attempt to explain NOPD’s policy on shooting at moving vehicles. Perhaps Ms. Westbrook got caught up in the moment and misspoke. It is possible that she would retract the statements given the opportunity. However, the damage has been done. These statements tend to cause a chilling effect on members of the NOPD. It would compound the tragedy if an officer were to get hurt or killed because they were wondering if they would be “arrested on the spot” when they were put in a position to take action in a tense, rapidly evolving set of circumstances. We empathize with the Mr. Harris’s family and would certainly rather not find ourselves in the position of having to address this situation. That being said, we believe that Ms. Westbrook should resign and, failing that, Superintendent Harrison should insist that she resign.