January 8, 2019 at 7:07 PM CST – Updated January 8 at 7:07 PM
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Some local crime-fighting advocates said policing reforms in New Orleans made Police Superintendent Michael Harrison attractive to cities around the country. Still, they said Harrison could face pushback as he tries to overhaul the Baltimore Police Department.
Harrison shocked many in the community when he announced that he is retiring from the NOPD to become Baltimore’s top cop.
“He’s going to have to reconstruct and change the culture of the Baltimore Police Department the way that it’s been done in New Orleans,” said Rafael Goyeneche, who heads the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Like New Orleans, the Baltimore Police Department is operating under a federal consent decree because of allegations of unconstitutional practices.
“New Orleans basically went from the poster boy for the bottom police department, or close to it in the country, to a miraculous turnaround, and he’s been at the helm for the last several years doing that, so I think it is only natural that cities that are attempting to replicate what New Orleans has done would look to New Orleans,” Goyeneche stated.
“I think when you have a resume as amazing as Superintendent Harrison’s resume is, this should not be a surprise to any of us,” said Melanie Talia, who serves as president and CEO of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.
Goyeneche said Harrison’s people skills have served him well as the leader of the NOPD. But he thinks Harrison will face resistance to change in Baltimore and will have to deal with a strong police union.
“When he goes into Baltimore, he’s essentially going to be the bad cop, so he’s going to have to go in there and talk about everything that’s bad and broken. That’s going to be unpopular with some of the existing force over there, and as an outsider, you know, his success is tied to his ability to motivate and lead the police officers that are there. So it’s a daunting challenge that he is taking. I hope that he has a multi-year contract,” said Goyeneche.
Mayor Latoya Cantrell did not conduct a national search for her police chief, as she promised. Instead, Cantrell retained Harrison, who was former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s selection to lead the NOPD.
At the time she announced Harrison would stay on the job, Cantrell also said she would put performance benchmarks in place for Harrison but did not indicate that Harrison was her permanent choice for the position.
“I think that definitely was a factor. I haven’t spoken to Mike Harrison about that, but just approaching it logically, you know, this is a guy who bled blue, rose through the ranks of the police department. He made it very clear that he wanted to remain here, at least initially under the new administration. The mayor indicated that she would make a final decision by the end of the year about his future. We’re into the next year, 2019, and there was no announcement by the mayor that Mike Harrison is her guy, so this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often,” Goyeneche stated.
Cantrell told FOX 8 late last year that the NOPD was moving in the right direction and getting results. Goyeneche said the fact that Cantrell did not conduct a national search for a police chief at the outset could be off-putting for some potential applicants.
“She’s essentially, you know, seven months into her first term. If she were to conduct a national search it would probably be the summer before you’d see that, so essentially it would be a year, so any outsider coming in would be looking at maybe three years. Most of the national candidates, they’re going to want a four-year commitment, you know, to come in, so that may not be an opportunity, it may limit her ability, and the city’s ability to attract national candidates,” Goyeneche said.
Talia agrees that the city may not receive a flood of applicants to replace Harrison.
“I think the pool of applicants, the pool of qualified candidates will not be a tremendous pool. We’re a special city, and we do have a consent decree, and I think the next chief is going to have some big shoes to fill,” Talia said.
“I think you’re probably looking at somebody coming from within the department, or locally from the region, as opposed to a national person,” Goyeneche said.