New Orleans Police Superintendent Resigns; Interim Chief Appointed
This story has been updated.
Ronal Serpas, the Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department brought in by Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2010 as part of a series of sweeping changes to city government in the post-Katrina and post-Nagin eras, announced his retirement at a packed press conference Monday morning.
Serpas oversaw a police department in flux, hemorrhaging officers and laboring under ever-more intense scrutiny from the public, the new inspector general and independent police monitor offices, and a federal police consent decree imposed on the city.
The decree, a legal settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city, was enacted to ensure, in the words of the decree, that “police services are delivered to the people of New Orleans in a matter that complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
Serpas began his 34-year policing career in the New Orleans Police Department as a patrol officer in June 1980, rising through the ranks to Chief of Operations — the second-in-command of the department — in 1996 under then-chief Richard Pennington.
Serpas left the NOPD to serve as the Chief of Police for the Washington State Patrol, and then as the Chief of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, before returning to New Orleans in May 2010.
“I want to thank Mayor Landrieu for giving me the opportunity to come back home to New Orleans to lead the fine men and women of the NOPD,” Serpas said in prepared remarks given to the media before Monday morning’s press conference. “This has been a great run under very difficult circumstances. When I came back in 2010, we needed dramatic changes. Together with Mayor Landrieu and the brave men and women of the force, we have turned this department around and laid a strong foundation for the future.”
"Chief Serpas has led NOPD for four years and brought many positive changes, including the implementation of a federal consent decree that continues to drive out corruption and waste from the department," City Councilmember-at-Large Stacy Head said in a prepared statement. "He began a robust recruitment campaign that is well underway today and I am confident will ultimately strengthen our force by attracting the best and brightest. These efforts will lead to continued public safety and a reduction in violent crimes. I am grateful to Chief Serpas for his service and leadership."
Some reports say Serpas will take a position as Director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. At today’s press conference, Serpas said he’d remain in New Orleans. [Update: Loyola University New Orleans has announced Serpas has accepted a faculty position in their Department of Criminal Justice.]
Serpas will earn $11,843.24 in retirement each month from the City of New Orleans, WDSU-TV is reporting.
There were 156 homicides in New Orleans last year, the lowest number in decades. However, Serpas’ tenure has been marred by incidents that have garnered major national and international attention, including mass shootings at a second line parade on Mother’s Day 2013 that wounded 19 people; a gunfight in the French Quarter earlier this year that killed one man and left nine people hurt; and a drive-by shooting in the Lower 9th Ward earlier this month that killed two people and injured five others, including a two-year-old boy left brain-damaged and his four-year-old brother who was permanently blinded.
Press conference Q&A with media:
Lieutenant Michael Harrison, until today the commander of the NOPD’s Seventh District, was sworn in immediately after the Serpas announcement as the interim superintendent. Harrison, 45, is a graduate of McDonogh 35 High School, and has served in a number of divisions within the NOPD over his 20-plus-year career, including as commander of the department’s Special Investigations Division, as a Lieutenant in the Public Integrity Bureau (the NOPD’s internal affairs department), and as a detective in the Major Narcotics Section.
“Commander Harrison has demonstrated strong, community-focused leadership during his tenure as Seventh District Commander,” Mayor Landrieu said in the prepared remarks. “During this transition, I am confident he will be able to scale the focus on building trust with the community to improve public safety.”
"I look forward to working with the interim chief Lt. Michael Harrison, the Mayor, The Council and city and community leaders to rebuild and strengthen NOPD's morale and to make our streets safer, ensuring that we have a chief and police department that is a part of the community it seeks to protect and serve," City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said in a statement after the press conference.
Landrieu also said Harrison is being considered as a viable candidate to assume the Superintendent position on a permanent basis.
With additional reporting by WWNO's Eileen Fleming and Farrar Hudkins, and WDSU-TV's Clint Durrett.