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Mayor-elect Latoya Cantrell promises national search for police chief

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Mayor-elect Latoya Cantrell promises to conduct a national and internal search for the police chief she will appoint once taking over as mayor.

Some crime-fighting experts have thoughts on how they think the process should proceed and whether crime-reduction benchmarks should be a job requirement.

"I think that the best way to do it is to identify a pool of candidates and go recruit them to apply and consider them,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

"I don't think you start with a person, I really don't, I think you start with a plan,” said Dr. Peter Scharf, a veteran criminologist at LSU Health who has worked around the country and testified numerous times on Capitol Hill.

NOPD Chief Michael Harrison released the following statement:

“I’m proud of the work I’ve done in 26 and a half years in law enforcement, and of the tremendous progress we’ve made in my 3 years as Chief. Under the leadership team we have in place, the NOPD has seen radical culture change that is showing results. Right now--- the murder rate is down, violent crime is down, and citizen satisfaction is up. More to the point, I’m proud and grateful to note that nearly 80% of the officers on the force support the direction of the department under my leadership. In partnership with this administration, I’ve been able to secure the resources and tools the men and women of the NOPD need. Everything I’ve gone to the mayor and asked for, we’ve been given.  With his support and my leadership, the NOPD has been transformed - for the better.”

"I think you're going to want to have someone that has been the chief of a major department. I don’t think that you want somebody, at least at this stage, that hasn’t led an entire department before, so I think that if you are strategic and you offer the right salary, I think that there will be more than a number of qualified people to be considered for this position,” stated Goyeneche.

Dr. Scharf thinks there could be some challenges.

"We have a reputation of being rough on outsiders, though Pennington is a notable exception. I worked with Pennington in D.C,” Scharf said.

The current police chief, Michael Harrison wants to stay on the job.

“I absolutely would love to be in this job Thanksgiving next year,” Harrison said.  He added that his focus right now is working to keep the people of the city safe and fulfilling his responsibilities to the current mayor, Mitch Landrieu.

"The objective always is to hire the best available person, so the fact that Mike Harrison I think has done a very good job makes him deserving of being compared with other applicants and finalists for this position,” said Goyeneche.

The late Richard Pennington was brought from outside of the state to be then-Mayor Marc Morial’s police chief.

Pennington had clear violent crime reduction benchmarks.

"The murder reduction was 72-percent. He said he would quit if he couldn't reduce the murder rate by 50-percent, so he had the moral courage to do that and I think we've got to demand that  of the new chief,” Dr. Scharf stated.

Goyeneche said the situation in the police department is different now.

"We're not close to being fully staffed, so to be able to say that the police department under a new chief is going to be able to achieve necessarily what Richard Pennington did with a 1,700 member force would be a little bit unrealistic, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't shoot for the stars," he said.

Cantrell said during a recent FOX 8 interview that she likes the idea of benchmarks.

"Holding the chief accountable tied to measurements outlined in that contract will be a priority,” said Cantrell.

Both Scharf and Goyeneche said the police chief must have wide latitude in running the police department.

"That's been the biggest failure of the Landrieu administration. They ran the police department,” Dr. Scharf said.

"He or she needs to be held accountable, but they cannot be micro-managed the way that the police chiefs have been micro-managed under the current administration” said Goyeneche.

Of course, the NOPD remains under a federal consent decree.

"I don't believe that the consent decree will be a deterrent to qualified applicants for this position. I think that the foundation of reform has been laid,” said Goyeneche.

"This may be degrees of awful, but the murder rate is going down,” said Dr. Scharf.

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