New Orleans Police Chief Says He Needs to Hire and Fire Commanders at Will to Protect Reforms

Says the commanders are responsible for many reforms already implemented.



The civil service commission in New Orleans has punted on a decision to allow the police superintendent to hire and fire commanders at will—delaying the issue until next month, the New Orleans Advocate reports.

The commander position was created on a temporary basis in 2011 to replace district captains. Commanders report to deputy superintendents and are not promoted to their positions based on civil service rules. Michael Harrison, New Orleans' police superintendent, argues replacing captains with such commanders has made it possible for the department to implement reforms after a Department of Justice investigation found a systemic pattern and practice of constitutional violations.

Harrison said the request was the most important and critical one he has made in his tenure, saying the commanders he and his predecessor had appointed made "lasting reform and change" possible. ""The continued success of these reforms is likewise reliant upon these individuals," the police superintendent said.

The personnel administrator for the civil service commission, who is leading the study into the request, has taken a posture against it, calling it "unprecedented" and complaining "it would subject individuals to political pressures."

That's exactly right. The absurdity of the entire culture of the civil service protections system aside, the idea that police officers—government agents granted the authority to use violence to enforce the laws of a democratic government—falls apart under any kind of critical engagement. A combination of civil service rules, union contract provisions, and state and federal laws and precedents make it exceedingly difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. Worse, the first two of these elements are often significantly inoculated from the democratic process even as they were borne of it. Moves such as that New Orleans' police leadership are taking to implement and protect reform are crucial to reverse that trend. Democratic governments face political pressure all the time—it's what makes them democratic. Police officers, given their particular power over the lives of the people they are supposed to work for, should not be completely exempt from them.