If failure was strictly measured by the number of dismal headlines that an entity generates, than 2011 was truly a dreary year for the New Orleans Police Department. Fortunately there were a few that were less sensational than encouraging. If weighted fairly, they give us a reason to be reassured.
Those stories that were bad were very bad, many of having to do with the post-Hurricane Katrina mayhem, including the Henry Glover case and the Danziger Bridge incident. Many former police officers now sit in federal prison because of their indiscretions. We would add that they were victimized by the breakdown in city leadership in the days after Katrina; nevertheless the officers betrayed their oaths to protect and to serve.
At least it can be said that those crimes occurred during a previous administration and under a previous police chief. It speaks well that ultimately justice was done, no matter how painful it was to watch.
Carried over from the past was abuse of overtime pay policy as uncovered by the Inspector General’s office. There were also stories of officers rigging tickets, engaging in personal flights and even a case of abuse of a police dog. Most of those bad cops were also holdovers from the old system whose ways, we hope, will find no tolerance nowadays.
While the U.S. Justice Department, at the invitation of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Chief Ronal Serpas, continue to monitor the department it, like us, must have seen some signs of encouragement. There was impressive police work when the police busted Telley Hankton, perhaps the most vicious criminal to walk the streets. Tragically an associate of his killed the brother of a key court witness, but the police were vigilant in nabbing the perpetrator, even so far as the police chief going on television to identify the suspect and to ask for help.
Two sets of shootings on Halloween triggered headlines that reverberated nationally, yet in both cases the police nabbed suspects within days. Another suspect, one wanted for killing a Northshore optometrist in the French Quarter, was tracked down in Missouri and arrested.
We know that many cases remain unsolved but the police have at least displayed finesse in closing the high-profile crimes. They have been aided by Crimestoppers, federal investigators and an aggressive D.A.’s office. In times past the police didn’t even have that level of support.
Police Chief Serpas is competent and has been very open at providing information. When he came under fire because of the overtime abuse scandal, Mayor Mitch Landrieu did the right thing in standing behind him.
As the new year begins, we hope that the baggage from the past is now cleared and the department can build a sterling reputation of its own. We know that the solutions for crime are long term, but it’s the short term that makes us fear the streets. May the citizens and their protectors totally reclaim those streets for all of us.