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Petition calls for the removal of Serpas

4th June 2011   ·   0 Comments

Just two weeks after a coalition of residents and community activists led by Community United for Change called for the termination or resignation of NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, another grassroots group, Silence Is Violence, began circulating a petition that calls for the removal of the embattled police chief. The group lists a number of reasons why New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu should fire Serpas

“Our perception currently is that the mayor is in support of Serpas, which is problematic,” Tamara Jackson of Silence Is violence told FOX 8 News Thursday. “He hasn’t shown the ability to continue to keep us safe and restore the safety in the community and as well as in the department.”

Despite the well-defined reasons provided by Silence Is Violence, a recalcitrant Mayor Landrieu reiterated his support of Chief Serpas last week.

“We’ve been informed by the Inspector General that he has conducted a thorough investigation and found no wrongdoing by Chief Serpas,” the Landrieu administration said in a statement Thursday. “The Inspector General also reported that the Chief has been incredibly cooperative and helpful in this and other reviews of the NOPD by the Office of the Inspector General. Together, with the Department of Justice, we will restore public confidence and trust in the department and make the streets of New Orleans safer for all of our citizens.”

FOX 8 News reported that a spokesman with the mayor’s office said the investigation into details is not necessarily over.

“The final sentence leaves open the possibility for Mayor Landrieu to answer the call of his citizens and restore public confidence and trust in the department by appointing a chief whom the public is able to trust,” Baty Landis of Silence Is Violence told FOX 8 News Thursday.

“He should be gone,” Malcolm Suber, a member of Community United for Change, told reporters at the May 12 rally calling for the removal of Chief Serpas. “That’s our single message today.”

On May 19, the mayor and police chief were hit with a barrage of questions from angry residents and community activists during a crime summit at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

“We want the truth, we want somebody we can trust, we want the answers,” New Orleans businessman Mike Drummett told Serpas and Landrieu. “We don’t want a speech. I respect you, I’m sorry I’m disrupting it, but I can’t stomach this.”

“Right now, there’s a lot of sentiment that it’s hard to believe that the chief didn’t know about it until — as the chief stated — he received the report,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP, told The Louisiana Weekly a day after the heated exchange at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. “There are a lot of folks in the community who find that hard to believe and are of the opinion that if indeed (Serpas) didn’t know anything about his driver’s, son-in-law’s and the father of his godchild’s involvement until after a period of several months, then that shows a deficiency in the superintendent.”

A “Walk Against Corruption” has been planned by WBOK-AM radio station and members of the community to address concerns about problems in the NOPD and other issues with the Landrieu administration. The protest will begin at the foot of Canal Street at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, and end at City Hall.

W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change (CUC), told The Louisiana Weekly Friday that he “wholeheartedly supports the petition” that calls for the firing of Serpas.

“This is an outgrowth of the continued work that CUC has been doing” for more than a year, Johnson said.

“As you recall, CUC was first in calling for the firing and resignation of Serpas. We had picket lines at Gallier Hall calling for his resignation the day he was sworn in and we have done so throughout the entire year that he has been police chief,” Johnson added. “More recently, we had picket lines in front of the NOPD’s headquarters and in front of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church when Mayor Landrieu had his community meeting.

“We have been very vocal, visual and consistent with our call to get rid of Ronal Serpas,” Johnson added. He said Serpas’ previous record as a NOPD leader as well as his time in the Seattle and Nashville police departments convinced the organization that he was not the right man to lead the NOPD.

“Ronal Serpas has proven to be more of a politician than a law enforcement officer,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “He’s been more concerned with hitting his talking points and keeping his popularity up than he has been concerned with public safety. That has been a critical shortcoming of Ronal Serpas from the perspective of the citizens that have to live under his control.

“The petition is but another step in the citizens pouring out and showing their displeasure with Chief Ronal Serpas,” Johnson added. “Some­thing has to be wrong with the administration if it takes all of this for Mayor Landrieu to see the handwriting on the wall.

“I don’t know what kind of hold Ronal Serpas has over Mitch, but at this point he is definitely a liability. I can’t understand how anyone would continue to hold onto a liability at the risk of having their own professional or political career called into question and their own governance called into question by trying to protect and maintain someone who is obviously inept and not suited for the job.”

The CUC continues to hold public meetings with residents to gather information about what residents want and need to be included in the Department of Justice’s NOPD consent decree. The next two meetings will be held on June 7 and June 9 at Hope House (915 St. Andrew St.) and Light City Fellowship (6117 St. Claude Ave.) respectively. Both meetings start at 7:00 p.m.

“It’s critical for residents and citizens of New Orleans to become involved and actively participate in this process because we have an opportunity to frame and construct a consent decree that can address and solve the problems that we’re confronted with in the NOPD today,” W.C. Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “The findings from the DOJ clearly gives us a mandate and direction. Since the findings have been released, we’ve gotten an awful lot of information about the paid detail. This is something that the people need to know and understand: The paid details are highly unethical and mostly illegal. It is against everyone’s better judgement to allow taxpayers’ money to train, educate, equip and pay an ongoing force that’s mostly concerned with after-work assignments.

“As much money as they claim paid details bring in, citizens need to demand that this money be put into the NOPD budget and instead of paid details we make these details regular assignments,” Johnson added. “If we do that, New Orleans would be able to hire more police, give them higher salaries, get better equipment, have more control in our community and get better public safety, and it wouldn’t cost us an extra dime. In fact, the city would not have to budget monies to the NOPD from the city coffers. The NOPD essentially would become a self-sufficient force. If we were to do that, we could change the complexion and the terrain of New Orleans forever. But no one is really addressing that.”

“Every police officer in this city accepts a herculean personal and professional task, the superintendent perhaps most of all,” Silence Is Violence said in a prepared statement. “Ronal Serpas took on a deeply complex and difficult job when he agreed to transform the NOPD. He arrived here at a disadvantage, given his past with the Department. This being said, Mr. Serpas has not managed to rise above this past, nor chart a viable new path toward safety in New Orleans. In particular, we have found the following actions and approaches to be counter-productive to achieving a safe city:

“An inability to break the cycle of corruption. Mr. Serpas has demonstrated both a personal and a professional inability to break the decades-old cycle of corruption plaguing the NOPD. His personal entanglements have cast doubt upon his own credibility, and his lack of decisive action when confronted with apparent corruption in the department shows a lack of professional focus. The You Lie, You Die dictate has not been applied as promised.

“Criminalization, disengagement, and antagonism of victims. Under Mr. Serpas’ administration, the victim-service department has been reduced to just one detective. Victims of violence and their families have difficulty accessing information, support, and any sense of partnership with the NOPD. This is a human failing, and a lost opportunity for natural partners in combatting violence. Prior arrest records — not convictions, but arrests of homicide victims — are broadcast as part of NOPD-disseminated notices about their deaths: Hardly the way to convince families to participate in criminal justice, or the broader public to engage in problems that we must address in unity.

“A lack of clear strategy for addressing and collaborating with cultural traditions and practices, espe­cially street practices. Heigh­tened and often clumsy (particularly around Carnival season 2011) policing of cultural traditions and practices has antagonized members of the diverse cultural communities who also should be natural partners for the police. We support the enforcement of codes. However, enforcing codes and policing cultural practices must include communication and collaboration with these groups in question, or the police lose valuable credibility and cooperation in the community.

“New Orleans is at a crossroads, and the direction taken by our leaders at this juncture will speak volumes about their commitment to hear and to serve the citizens of this city, and about their human interest in our pain. Morale within the NOPD is at a nadir, with even the most dedicated officers struggling to find motivation and support for their work. More than a distraction, the current crisis within the NOPD is actively dangerous. The U.S. Department of Justice, and Mr. Landrieu himself, have declared that community engagement and the public’s trust and confidence are essential to successfully fighting violent crime and to sustainable reform of the NOPD.

“The community is calling for Mr. Landrieu to provide leadership, to stand up for us, and to address the painful realities of violence in our streets and homes.”

An online version of the petition is available at www.thepetition­site.com/20/petition-of-no-confidence-in-new-orleans-police-chief-ronal-serpas.

Additional reporting by The Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This story originally published in the May 30, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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