New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu tapped Lt. Michael Harrison, a low-profile commander who carries little baggage in a department filled with controversy, to take over the New Orleans Police Department, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Harrison faces a daunting task as the department struggles to comply with a federal consent decree and address the city’s pressing crime needs amid short-staffing and low morale. Harrison was named interim chief yesterday as Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced an abrupt retirement to take a teaching job at Loyola University.
Harrison, a 23-year police veteran, rose through the ranks without making waves. While Landrieu said he would seek input on what the community wants in a chief, Landrieu suggested that the job could be Harrison’s to lose. “He will absolutely be given consideration,” Landrieu said. “I would say that possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Harrison pledged to continue the mayor’s fight to reduce the rate of the city’s murders and other violent crimes. As the commander over the seventh police in eastern New Orleans since 2012, Harrison has had to confront the department’s biggest problem: understaffing. Despite being the largest geographical district, it has roughly the same number of patrol officers, causing 911 calls to languish longer than those in all other districts. In 2012, calls were held for an average of 7.2 minutes for the highest priority calls, and for nearly an hour for all other calls, before an officer was available to respond.