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City Council to vote on Cantrell’s choice for police chief later this week

Oakland, Calif., Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick stands before a baseball game, July 25, 2017, in San Francisco. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, that she has chosen Kirkpatrick, a former chief of police in Spokane, Wash., and Oakland, Calif., to head the New Orleans Police Department, a nomination subject to the approval of the City Council.
Jeff Chiu
Anne Kirkpatrick, then police chief in Oakland, Calif., stands before a baseball game, July 25, 2017, in San Francisco.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s choice for New Orleans’ police chief could be confirmed as early as this week after a city council committee voted 4-1 to advance her nominee, Anne Kirkpatrick, to a full vote.

Committee members didn’t say whether they plan to vote yes or no, nor did they issue a recommendation to their colleagues, though some appeared to support Kirkpatrick during a confirmation hearing last Wednesday.

“Ultimately, the people of this city just want to feel safe,” said councilmember Helena Moreno. “This job as chief is tough, and I look forward to seeing how you plan to get it done.”

Kirkpatrick, who was sworn in as the city’s interim chief last month, has a lengthy resume in law enforcement. Her most recent role as police chief in Oakland, California, follows positions in Spokane, Washington and Chicago.

She’s supported by the NOLA Coalition, a “collection of nearly 550 local nonprofits, civic organizations, and businesses,” that has been vocal on crime reduction efforts in recent months.

At the hearing, Kirkpatrick outlined her vision for the department, including plans to address the city’s officer shortage and comply with its more than decade-long federal consent decree.

Still, an overarching question loomed: Is a transplant the best pick for New Orleans?

Council member Oliver Thomas said while he respects that Kirkpatrick is from the South — she grew up in Memphis — New Orleans is its own place.

“It's a totally different place here,” he said.

Last week's confirmation hearing was the first-of-its-kind, after a change to the city’s charter last November that mandates city council members get final approval on mayoral appointments. Still, audience and council members pointed to what they described as a lack of transparency throughout the process which had ostensibly been redesigned to address just that.

“It isn’t any surprise to anyone when we say; the Black Community of New Orleans has been left entirely out of the selection of a new police chief,” two local groups, Community United for Change and the New Orleans United Front, said in a joint written statement.

The statement also referenced what the groups perceive as a series of troubling events during Kirkpatrick’s time in Oakland.

During her time as police chief, Oakland officers assisted in a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Aug. 2017. While she said her officers were assisting in a federal human trafficking investigation, the raid didn’t result in a single criminal prosecution, according to reporting from a local outlet, The East Bay Express. “Rather, the only person arrested, Santos de Leon, is facing civil immigration charges and could be deported,” the outlet reported in Oct. 2017.

Kirkpatrick was fired from her position in 2020 without cause, following a series of conflicts she had with the city’s civilian police commission. A jury later awarded her more than $337,000 in damages, after finding she was terminated in retaliation for whistleblowing on corruption within the commission.

During her time in Oakland, Kirkpatrick was also criticized for her handling of the city’s federal consent decree, which is similar to the one weighing on New Orleans.

“Under Kirkpatrick, the department slid backward on court-ordered reforms, falling out of compliance with five tasks [Oakland Police Department] needed to achieve to emerge from federal court oversight,” another local outlet, The Oaklandside reported in 2022.

Kirkpatrick defended her performance under Oakland’s consent decree during last week's hearing.

She said one of the federal court orders she operated under was to complete all internal investigations within 30 days. She opted to take the time to retrain officers instead, she said, after determining that the quality of the investigations were “very poor.”

“Therefore, you fall out of compliance, but for the right reasons," she said. "I'm trying to fix the cultural issues, not hit a number. I was addressing something I thought was much more important.”

New Orleans’ own federal oversight and Kirkpatrick's plan to respond was also a focus on the hearing.

In 2012, the New Orleans Police Department and The Department of Justice entered into the nation’s most expansive consent decree, subjecting the department to federal review until it completed a set of sweeping reforms. More than a decade later, the city is still not considered in compliance.

Kirkpatrick laid out her plan to review the 81 outstanding paragraphs of the decree with Federal Judge Susie Moran, and come to an agreement with her on key definitions of legal terms.

“Hopefully, if you confirm me, I’ll get us over that finish line,” Kirkpatrick said.

She also addressed staffing as another area of concern and proposed a series of changes to help boost the department’s dwindling number of officers, including free daycare, 8-hour work shifts instead of 12 and housing support.

Still, one of the biggest questions Kirkpatrick faced was one she couldn’t answer: Why wasn’t Michelle Woodfork, a 31-year veteran of NOPD, Cantrell’s nominee?

Woodfork was tapped to run the department after former chief Shaun Ferguson retired last December. Violent crime rates dropped across the city during her nine months as interim chief. And, for the first time in two years, the city saw a 12-day stretch with no homicides in early September.

Moreno used her opening remarks last Wednesday to praise Woodfork and said she “appeared to have been an obvious choice.”

“The question as to why Michelle Woodfork was not chosen is not something that me or any council member up here can answer,” she said. “Only Mayor LaToya Cantrell can answer that question.”

Cantrell’s office responded to request for comment by pointing to her Sep. 22 press release which says, “Kirkpatrick's expertise, fearlessness and dedication to public safety has proven that she is a true leader and trailblazer and is the right choice to lead our world-class police department.”

The release thanks Woodfork for her guidance, but does not specify why she wasn’t chosen.

Kirkpatrick acknowledged the strides Woodfork appears to have made in crime reduction and said she plans to continue using some of her tactics.

She also noted the general air of caution in the room regarding her status as an outsider.

“I come to New Orleans saying with all sincerity… it is me who embraces your culture, not me changing [it],” she said.

Several proposals were made by council members to ensure Woodfork remains an influential voice in the department, such as the creation of a new deputy chief role.

The full council is scheduled to vote on Kirkpatrick’s confirmation during its next meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 19.