Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s pick for the next top cop in New Orleans, Anne Kirkpatrick, will face a confirmation vote before the full City Council next week after a heated five-hour hearing on Wednesday (Oct. 11).
Kirkpatrick, currently the interim superintendent for the New Orleans Police Department, has also headed police departments in Washington state and Oakland, California. She told council members that among her main goals for the NOPD, should she win the permanent post, are reaching full compliance with a decade-long federal consent decree and addressing officer shortages.
But the question of the Memphis native’s outsider status repeatedly came up during public comment, as about 20 people took to the stand to voice their opposition to the mayor’s nominee. Some residents said they opposed Kirkpatrick because of a lack of transparency from the Cantrell administration during the selection process for superintendent. Others said they were suspicious as to whether Kirkpatrick is prepared to lead the NOPD as a white out-of-towner.
This year marks the first time the council has final say on the appointment of a police chief, following last year’s passage of a city charter amendment requiring a council confirmation process for top executive branch positions.
Though most council members seemed receptive to Kirkpatrick on the basis of her qualifications, they reiterated their dissatisfaction with the selection process, which City Council President JP Morrell has previously described as veiled in “secrecy.”
After former Superintendent Shaun Ferguson retired last December, the mayor’s team enlisted the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a private organization, to conduct a nationwide search for candidates.
At the end of July, the mayor announced that six finalists had been narrowed from a pool of 33, but did not disclose names or resumes.
Eventually, following public pressure, Cantrell released the names of the finalists, including Michelle Wookfork, an NOPD captain who had been serving as interim chief following Ferguson’s retirement, and Kirkpatrick, a career police chief and veteran officer with over 35 years of law enforcement experience who worked under a consent decree during her stint in Oakland.
What do residents think of Kirkpatrick?
The selection process for the next person to lead the beleaguered and understaffed police department has led some residents to feel disempowered, they told Kirkpatrick and council members Wednesday.
“It’s just not personal,” Kim Ford, a resident of the Lower 9th Ward, said to Kirkpatrick from the stand. “We happen to live in a community where transparency and inclusivity has evaded us.”
Toni Jones, a member of the group New Orleans for Community Oversight of Police stated plainly: “We have very limited information because no one has given us information.”
Woodfork, the daughter of a former NOPD officer and the niece of the department’s first Black superintendent, was sitting in the audience for the hearing. And many of the public speakers pointed to her as a favorable homegrown alternative for the job. Residents attributed this year’s reduction in violent crime to Woodfork’s leadership. Council members, too, praised Woodfork’s service as interim superintendent. Moreno said she was shocked that Woodfork — who was thought to be Cantrell’s favorite for the post — wasn’t the finalist, and would push for her to be named Kirkpatrick’s second-in-command.
“If the previous interim police officer was getting things improved, she was obviously getting the job done. … What in the Sam Hill would possess people to interrupt her?” resident Claudine Smith said.
Multiple residents also objected to Kirkpatrick’s lack of familiarity with New Orleans. Some residents said she was unfit to lead the majority-Black and culturally unique city. In response to questioning from Councilmember Lesli Harris about her cultural competency, Kirkpatrick said that increasing community engagement was one of her top priorities, adding that as an outsider, she bears the responsibility to learn from the community, rather than change it.
But multiple public speakers said they found Kirkpatrick’s proposed strategies for leading the department too vague — especially in regard to the NOPD’s federal consent decree, which the city has struggled to exit.
While the nominee stressed her success leading the Oakland police department under its own consent decree from 2017 to 2020, Councilmember Oliver Thomas, who stated his opposition to Kirkpatrick, questioned why noncompliance under the decree — which remains in effect 20 years after it was first approved — actually increased during the nominee’s tenure in California. Kirkpatrick said the “cultural shift” she implemented in the department during her tenure addressed underlying issues within the police force, even if that shift was not reflected on paper. “I was trained to hit the quality, not just a superficial number,” she said.
In 2020, Kirkpatrick’s stint in Oakland ended abruptly when a civilian commission fired her. Oakland officials said she failed to comply with the city’s consent decree, reform the department or address a pattern of racial discrimination. Kirkpatrick, who said she was fired for whistleblowing illegal conduct within the commission, was personally awarded more than $300,000 last year in a wrongful termination lawsuit she filed. (The city had to pay an additional $1.2 million to cover her attorneys’ fees in the case.)
Kirkpatrick said she was poised to work with the federal monitor for the NOPD consent decree and devise a “clear timeline” to address every standard of policing where the department is still falling short so that it could fully comply and ultimately exit the decree. She also told the council that she met with U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who has overseen the department under the decree.
But residents seemed hesitant about an expedited departure from federal oversight, which is meant to bring the long-troubled police department into compliance with constitutional standards. One resident cautioned the city about exiting the consent decree before community members felt confident, and another doubted the validity of Kirkpatrick’s claims that she’d reformed the Oakland department for the better. “We don’t want anybody who can’t follow the consent decree,” said Alicia Plummer, a New Orleans East resident and former candidate for the City Council and the state House of Representatives.
Though some public speakers and council members alike raised concerns that Kirkpatrick would prioritize loyalty to the mayor above what’s best for the department, the nominee strongly disputed the notion that she would become a political pawn for Cantrell. Kirkpatrick promised to cooperate with the council and said she would want to meet with all council members for a monthly individual meeting.
“If you want a shadow chief, I am not your lady,” Kirkpatrick said. “If you confirm me, you will have an independent chief.”
Throughout the hearing, Kirkpatrick identified some strategies she would employ to address her top goals — including drone technology, a system of tiered policing, partnerships with community leaders and quality-of-life incentives — but it was the question of cultural competency and fit that worried the crowd.
Following a nearly unanimous string of oppositional comments from residents, Kirkpatrick offered final remarks: “I do thank the community for being here, being heard, and I do hear – I hear them,” she said.
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