RONAL SERPAS REPORT CARD, 6/26/11 C-/D+
Ronal Serpas is squarely in the hot seat, and his seat gets hotter by the day. Look at this spring’s grudge fight between a Treme bar bouncer and a NOPD son-mom duo that blew up into a fight. Both NOPD officers were suspended without pay and charged last week, and on May 25, two New Orleans police officers, a mother and son (Emelda Blanco, mom, and Gerald Blanco, son), were arrested. The incident occurred outside of Robertson’s Vieux Carre Lounge in the 1500 block of Basin Street.
A lot has happened in his first year in office, as leader of NOPD. Nevertheless, everyone deserves more a single benefit of the doubt.
Serpas joined the NOPD in 1980, rising to deputy chief under former Chief Richard Pennington before leaving in 2001 to become chief of the Washington State Patrol. In 2004, he accepted the top-cop position in Nashville, a city with twice the population of New Orleans, a much larger footprint and fewer officers. In February, Serpas claimed crime in Nashville had fallen to its lowest point in 20 years, a figure at odds with FBI numbers. Known for his self-confidence and love of statistics, Serpas argues that the FBI’s stat-gathering is less exact than the method used by his department. The new chief is also quick to call out the media as well as his own officers if he thinks they aren’t doing their jobs. Like most high ranking Civil Servants, he values loyalty immensely.
Serpas has found his latest assignment tough going, particularly with the scandal involving the NOPD’s paid detail program. The outsourcing of traffic camera reviews to Anytime Solutions LLC, a company owned by the chief’s close friend, 8th District Commander Edwin Hosli, has touched off calls for Serpas’ ouster — despite a statement from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, who is investigating the Anytime Solutions contract, that he had found no wrongdoing on Serpas’ part. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also stood by Serpas publicly on this difficult issue. Nevertheless, the appearance of deep impropriety has smeared the Police Chief severely. In early May, Mayor Landrieu suspended Hosli and the Director of Public Works.
Add to the list of Serpas’ headaches the firings and resignations in NOPD’s rank and file (NOPD is down 150 men), the federal convictions in the Henry Glover case, a murder rate that remains unchanged since he arrived — and, the federal trial for the Danziger Bridge shootings, which seated the jury this week. This should be an exciting trial, to say the least.
Ron has made some really stupid mistakes. With some prodding from the new City Council and Mayor, he did begin altering one major NOPD medieval policies by stopping his officers from arresting for chickenshit reasons. What his street cops do now with their time is a mystery to me, but this change freed up a ton of time. Not arresting for traffic/out of town/court warrants, small pot or paraphernalia, or other minor charges has opened up hours per day for lots of cops while emptying out OPP of small time or no time arrests. More than fourteen percent of the NOPD arrests in 2009 resulted from out‐of-parish warrants for minor offenses, such as unpaid traffic fines.
If he’s the man that makes that stick, he always will be the Man for this major move alone. He’s had to fight the trivial crime arrest syndrome that’s been around for decades or more.
In fact, he’s freeing up oodles of cash, and needs less cops to do the smaller job in a safer New Orleans. Redirecting Serpas’ excess funds, as well as Guzman’s, who’s the current Criminal Sheriff over Orleans Parish Prison system, who is freeing up lots of cash himself via- 1. less prisoners since there are less arrests 2. A much smaller jail doesn’t have to be constantly ‘fed’ with a new supply of very minor crime prisoners. These are among the keys to long time success for the Criminal Justice System.
While the Fed’s top legal man in our state, Jim Letten, and the Mayor of NOLA Mitch Landrieu hold a big press conference more than once about some huge case related directly to NOPD, Serpas is nowhere to be found at the big NOPD event.
Now it’s very embarrassing to be the Police Chief of New Orleans and not be invited to a press conference about the New Orleans Police Department, where the Mayor and Jim Letten are the stars. Serpas seems to take this slight with grace, or plain dumbness, I’m just not sure.
Has he tried, yes, you cannot deny that. Yet the huge, old Katrina cases that Jim Letten succeeded in prosecuting of huge NOPD misuse of power in the days following Katrina, showed just how lousy all the Attorney Generals, Mayors, and certainly Police Chiefs who haven’t prosecuted these 6 year old cases were in comparison.
Had something changed over time in the murder cases that became apparent when Letten prosecuted? Yes, tougher investigators pursued cold leads and witnesses, receiving good results. That’s a lot of officials who failed the families, the people, and lots of other folks. Jim Letten pursuing these cases and winning almost all the time is amazing, giving closure to 6 year old events of Police murder and cover up, what could be worse and better at the same exact time?
So, over these cases alone, the most damning type of police abuse imaginable, and not joining the party but being left outside, Ronal Serpas receives a C-/D+ from watchopp. Forget the Danziger and Glover cases among other miserable convictions/trials that occurred or are occurring during his first year.