One possible way to make the police department more responsive, Cantrell said to applause, would be to change the city charter to elect a police chief independently instead of making him a political appointment by the mayor.
“It’s working in our sister parishes. It’s working in other communities across the country,” Cantrell said. “It’s something we do need to be mindful of, and I want to have that conversation as your mayor.”
The idea is just a topic she wants to explore thus far based on ideas from constituents, and would ultimately require a vote by the public to change the structure of city government, Cantrell said. But it would offer one definite advantage of providing autonomy and consistency in the city’s police force that is insulated from the whims of changing mayoral administrations.
It's not the first time this has come up. A few years ago, J.P. Morrell proposed merging the Chief's and NOPD's functions with the Sheriff's office. He's continued to advocate for an elected Chief since then.
In an interview Thursday, Morrell acknowledged that merging the two agencies would be an enormous undertaking, practically and politically.It's an interesting coincidence, then, that a different rumor has former Police Chief Ronal Serpas considering a run for Sheriff. That development wouldn't merge the offices, obviously, but it would at least suggest the possibility.
But he argued that New Orleans taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth from the existing arrangement, where the police force answers to City Hall and an independently elected sheriff manages the local jail.
“We’re paying for two different police departments, and only one (of them) polices,” Morrell said, alluding to the fact that Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office is tasked mainly with operating Orleans Parish Prison, rather than patrolling or investigating crimes. “The system has been broken since the 1970s.”
Morrell pointed to Jefferson Parish, where the Sheriff’s Office acts as the police force for most of the parish, bolstered by separate departments in municipalities such as Kenner, Harahan and Westwego. “We’re the only parish that elects a warden,” Morrell said.