When he took office two years ago, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass had big plans, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He talked of creating a night basketball league to occupy young people who might otherwise be prone to violence. He proposed to pair local ministers with reluctant witnesses, encouraging them to provide testimony needed to put the city’s most violent criminals behind bars and keep them there. That was then, before lack of financing, coordination, and interest doomed both programs.
Compass, appointed by Mayor Ray Nagin in May 2002, is not discouraged as he marks the midpoint of the mayor’s term. A 25-year Police Department veteran, Compass, 45, says he could retire with full pension 10 months from now, but “as long as Ray Nagin is mayor, I’ll be chief of police in New Orleans.” Compass wins accolades from officials and citizens for his boundless energy and constantly innovative approaches to the department’s greatest challenges: a disturbingly high murder rate and a substantial lack of officers. The murder count this year is lower than at the same time last year, but the long, hot New Orleans summer got off to a bloody start in June, when six people were fatally shot in a 15-hour span. If there is a lesson he has learned after two years on the job, Compass said, it is that his own enthusiasm to make the city safer isn’t always matched by the community’s or those who control the purse strings. “I thought that just by me saying it, I could speak it into existence and that everybody would jump aboard, but it didn’t happen. And that was a very valuable lesson I learned,” he said. “It was disappointing and frustrating, but it was a reality check. We all have dreams and aspirations for certain things and I haven’t lost my energy or my zeal . . . but I have to come to the realization that everybody doesn’t have that philosophy sometimes.” Mayor Nagin praises Compass for creative ideas; he recently pulled 100 officers, himself included, off desk duty one day a week to help patrol the streets.