Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Monday named Anne Kirkpatrick, who most recently helmed the Oakland, California police department, as her pick for permanent police chief in New Orleans, culminating a search that has taken up most of the year.
Kirkpatrick, who was previously police chief in Spokane, Washington, will go before the City Council for confirmation under a law that New Orleans voters backed last fall as the mayor faced a recall threat. At a news conference announcing her choice, the mayor said Kirkpatrick will start as interim police chief on Sept. 22, with hopes of being confirmed for the permanent post by Oct. 5.
"I commend the city for adopting a confirmation process, because that is transparency in action," Kirkpatrick said Monday. "I do not take the process lightly nor for granted. I shall come prepared to be transparent and with a plan for the future."
Kirkpatrick's nomination comes after a secretive search process led by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Word about the pick had leaked by Monday morning and was reported by The Times-Picayune and other news organizations.
"I am grateful that Anne Kirkpatrick has accepted the opportunity to lead the New Orleans Police Department and continue improving our city's public safety through a collaborative, holistic approach," Cantrell said in a prepared statement.
"With over 35 years of experience in law enforcement, coupled with 20 years of leading police departments of even larger municipalities, Kirkpatrick has proven that she is more than capable and has what it takes to now lead the world-class NOPD."
Kirkpatrick's nomination marks a blow to Michelle Woodfork, who spent the past nine months trying out for the job while serving as interim chief, after former NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson retired last December. Both Kirkpatrick and Cantrell thanked Woodfork while crediting her for recent declines in violent crime under her tenure.
"(Woodfork) stands ready to offer guidance where necessary, which truly is a testament to her professionalism," Cantrell said. Woodfork, a police captain who was not present to hear the praise, will remain on the force, in what role Cantrell did not specify.
Kirkpatrick, 64, beat out Woodfork and a third finalist who at first withdrew but was called back to interview. A fourth took another chief's job.
She served a three-year stint as police chief in Oakland, ending in February 2020. Kirkpatrick was the first woman hired as chief in that department, which has been under federal oversight for more than two decades. Kirkpatrick's experience navigating Oakland's police reform agreement played a "major role" in Cantrell's decision, the mayor said.
Cantrell has been pressing for more than a year to terminate the consent decree that has governed the NOPD since 2012.
Kirkpatrick joined the Oakland Police Department after a series of short-tenured chiefs, but she clashed with a police civilian oversight board that voted to fire her. A jury later found she was wrongly terminated, and the city agreed to pay her $1.5 million in a settlement.
A native of Memphis, Kirkpatrick previously worked as a police bureau chief in Chicago, and as an undersheriff in King County, Washington. She was police chief in Spokane for six years up to 2012.
Kirkpatrick arrived in Oakland from Chicago on the heels of a sex scandal involving dozens of Oakland cops. Her exit as Oakland's police chief followed intense criticism over her handling of discipline after officers shot a homeless man they'd awoken in 2018.
The federal monitor that oversees Oakland's police reform agreement, in place for more than 20 years, criticized Kirkpatrick for going easy on some officers who were involved in the shooting.
Kirkpatrick was fired, but she alleged corruption inside the city's civilian police commission, including one commissioner using her post to try to slash towing fees. A jury later found Kirkpatrick was wrongfully fired.
John Burris, a veteran civil rights attorney who is involved in Oakland's police reform agreement, said Kirkpatrick came in advertised as a reformer but didn't live up to it.
Burris represented plaintiffs in a police corruption scandal two decades ago, involving a group of officers brutalizing minority residents, that resulted in Oakland's police reform agreement. It remains in place, Burris said, partly because of backsliding under Kirkpatrick's watch.
"A lot of good work has taken place at OPD. She was brought in as a reform person. Did she move the agenda forward in a significant way? The answer is no," he said.
Although the NOPD has also faced recent allegations from federal monitors of backsliding in its consent decree, Kirkpatrick said she believes the NOPD has has demonstrated "incredible improvement" in meeting its terms.
"They are transformed. ... The few issues that are left are very doable," Kirkpatrick said. "I will do everything I can as a team player to get us over the finish line."
She named completion of the consent decree as one of her top three priorities as chief, along with improving staffing and reducing violent crime. She enters a police force with fewer than 900 officers, down more than one in five officers in three years.
"Your homicides and your aggravated assaults, anything associated with violent crime—you're still too high," Kirkpatrick said. "We've got to help save lives around here."
Kirkpatrick inherits crime plans from both Woodfork and Fausto Pichardo, a former NYPD patrol chief turned consultant hired by a group of New Orleans business people to help fix the force. Kirkpatrick says she'll incorporate elements of both in her forthcoming plan, while eschewing any big leadership shakeups.
"I intend to keep the staff as is. The talent is there. I will not bring anyone with me," she said. "I have always kept people I have the blessing of inheriting, and I look forward to working with them."
The choice brought a muted response from New Orleans police officer groups.
"Clearly her resume is substantial, as well as her experience. We look forward to working with her assuming she's confirmed, which I suspect she would be," said Eric Hessler, an attorney with the Police Association of New Orleans.
The mayor's announcement shifts the focus to the City Council, several members of which agitated for more transparency during an opaque hiring process. Of 33 candidates who applied, details — all positive — were made public on only a half dozen of them.
City Council member Oliver Thomas, who served on one of two committees the mayor chose to evaluate candidates for the top NOPD job, said before Monday's announcement that he had not heard Kirkpatrick was getting the nod. Thomas said he thought Woodfork, whose uncle served as NOPD chief, had earned the job and boasted public support, particularly among the Black community.
"She has produced the results," Thomas said. "If there's a glaring reason she should not be chief, they need to let it be known. Because I'm not seeing what it is."
In a statement, council member Joe Giarrusso said he's known Woodfork for more than a decade and thanked her, "not only for her service as the interim chief but also offering herself up as a candidate for the superintendent's position.
"With the Mayor's announcement, I look forward to meeting Anne Kirkpatrick and speaking about her vision for the NOPD and the residents of the City," Giarrusso said.
Council vice-president Helena Moreno said in a statement that she hoped to learn more through the confirmation process about Kirkpatrick, "her previous work, and most importantly, her plans to make the city of New Orleans safer and improve our NOPD."
Council President JP Morrell's office gave no timetable Monday for a hearing, saying only that it will reveal details "in the next several days."
Staff writers Ben Myers and Sophie Kasakove contributed to this story.
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