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Violent crime down 20%, interim NOPD chief says at 100-day update

Interim New Orleans Police Superintendent Michelle Woodfork says she’s the right pick for the permanent position as chief of NOPD


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By Missy Wilkinson
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — Interim New Orleans Police Superintendent Michelle Woodfork touted a 20% decrease in violent crime in New Orleans in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period last year, saying her efforts to transform the department during her first 100 days as fill-in chief has yielded dividends.

A national search for a permanent chief is underway.

At a wide-ranging media briefing Monday, Woodfork highlighted the positive numbers, but devoted the lion’s share of time to ongoing plans for transforming the troubled department and stemming the tide of gun violence.

“While I knew firsthand the challenges we were facing, I knew they weren’t insurmountable,” Woodfork said. “And that we together — police, law enforcement partners, elected officials, civic leaders, businesses, residents and all of us in the community — could become the change the department and city deserve.”

Violent crime declines

Compared to the first quarter of 2022, murders are down 12%, from 69 at this time in 2022 to 60 so far this year, Woodfork said. Carjackings are down 55%, from 148 to 67. Armed robbery is down 28%, from 218 to 152.

It’s worth noting that 2022 was the most violent year in more than a decade, however — a year that saw New Orleans regain its title of America’s most murderous city.

The numbers Woodfork touted also felt incongruous coming on the heels of a violent 24 hours that saw eight wounded by gunfire, including a 13-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl.

Even so, she noted that nonfatal shootings have also declined over the first quarter — dropping 11%, from 118 to 108. And police deserve some of the credit, she said.

“We are strategically deploying officers based on analytics, intelligence data and this is the result,” Woodfork said.

‘No room for nepotism’

But Woodfork, a 31-year veteran of the force, also hand-picked five new district captains in a leadership shakeup. She said she was able to tailor their strengths to their new positions.

“The NOPD of change has no room for nepotism or favoritism. This department ... must put the right people in the right positions to disrupt the antiquated cycles,” Woodfork said Jan. 3 at a ceremony for the newly promoted officers, which included three deputy superintendents, four captains, three lieutenants and two sergeants.

She’s also beefed up incentives to get officers to stay on the force, calling recruitment and retention “an urgent priority.” More than 700 new police vehicles were rolled out last month, and Woodfork hopes every officer will be allowed a take-home car. Officers have started receiving $5,000 to $20,000 retention pay based on years of service.

She has petitioned the City Council for a robust advertising campaign to entice applicants nationwide to apply for NOPD jobs, and remote testing for out-of-state applicants is in the works.

More cops on the street

In February, Woodfork launched a phone bank headed by deputy chiefs and command staff to tell recently resigned officers about the bonuses. That effort netted 13 requests for reinstatement. Seven of those individuals have progressed to the background check stage, she said.

Meanwhile, police recruit class ranks are ticking slowly up. Eleven recruits graduated from the police academy on Friday. Eighteen are currently enrolled. Twenty to 25 will start in April, and Woodfork said she hopes to see the next class attract as many as 40 recruits.

[RELATED: Interim NOPD chief aims to bring in civilian hires, outlines plan for Mardi Gras]

In an effort to reduce the burden of non-emergency work on officers, Woodfork announced the creation of 100 more civilian jobs, including police intake specialist, crime lab analyst, social worker and administrative roles. These are in addition to 50 civilian NOPD roles announced in September by former chief Shaun Ferguson. Those jobs languished unfilled for months, but today, 49 of those jobs have been filled.

On Scene Services, a private company contracted to investigate minor crashes without injuries, has four vehicles patrolling 24/7, Woodfork said, and three more will be added in May.

Consent decree compliance

Woodfork hopes to move to the department to the self-monitoring phase after over a decade under federal oversight because of the 2012 consent decree.

She cited the measurement of compliance at 87%, though she did not specify areas of noncompliance. Federal monitor Jonathan Aronie at a March hearing noted substantial backsliding.

Last week, Cantrell boycotted a public consent decree meeting and forbade city personnel, including police, to attend without her permission. That prompted U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who has overseen the consent decree since its inception, to cancel the meeting.

Woodfork maintains the department is in a good place regarding compliance.

“True systematic changes have been implemented and taken root in our organization,” Woodfork said.

Next steps

A contract between the city and the International Chiefs of Police, signed March 2 by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, specifies a 15-17 week timeline for the search for a new superintendent.

The clock began ticking on March 16 with a kickoff meeting and is proceeding according to the schedule, which places a finalist candidate profile report at week six, a semi-finalist group profile at week 13, a finalist evaluation report at week 16, city interviews with finalists and finalist background reports at weeks 15 through 17, followed by an orientation report for the new chief.

Woodfork, the first Black woman to serve as NOPD superintendent and a niece of the chief’s first Black superintendent, has never expressed anything other than complete confidence in her ability to get the job done.

“When the time comes, I will participate in the national search, just as I’m sure other candidates will,” Woodfork said Monday. “This is my audition.”

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