New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison will retire and move to Baltimore to lead its police department, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Tuesday.
Harrison's last day in New Orleans will be Jan. 19.
Pugh announced the news Tuesday morning, one month after Harrison told The New Orleans Advocate he “declined to apply” for the job of police commissioner but “was again approached” and “participated in discussions about my potential interest” in the job.
At the time, Harrison said, he “ultimately asked not to be considered for the position because of my commitment to achieving our goals at NOPD.”
"This individual is one of the top police chiefs in the nation," said Pugh. "Reducing violence at its highest level, I think it's over 40 years in New Orleans. (He) has consent decree experience."
On Tuesday, the NOPD said in a prepared statement that Baltimore city leaders approached Harrison again after Pugh’s prior selection, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald withdrew from consideration because of a medical emergency that involves his son.
“The city of Baltimore has continued to show an interest in Chief Harrison for quite some time,” the NOPD said in its statement.
“Since my reappointment in May 2018, I have enjoyed the complete support of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. For that, I wish to express my profound gratitude,” Harrison said in a prepared statement. “From the time she was sworn in, she has provided us the necessary resources and support critical to carrying out our mission of reducing violent crime and implementing 21st century policing reforms.”
In her earlier statement, Pugh said Harrison, who joined the department in 1991 as a patrolman, had informed New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell of his decision to retire from the NOPD, a decision the NOPD later confirmed.
“The progress the men and women of the NOPD have made towards reforming the department and achieving the goals of our consent decree has prepared Chief Harrison for this next step," said Cantrell. "We are approaching full compliance with the consent decree, and we stand ready to begin the next great era. It is a testament to the progress that’s been made that other jurisdictions have sought out our Chief. We wish him all the best going forward.”
Harrison said he was flattered by Baltimore's interest in him.
“I’m honored by Mayor Pugh’s confidence in my abilities and approach and look forward to getting to Baltimore in the coming weeks to engage broadly with residents about the challenges to public safety and confidence in their police department,” Harrison said in a joint statement with Pugh.
Pugh praised Harrison for “clear, compelling and consistent results in reducing violent crime” and using technology to improve police work. “He will bring not only significant and relevant experience to addressing the challenges of Baltimore, but the insight and sensitivity needed to reestablish essential trust and confidence of citizens in their police officers.”
Andy Kopplin ran Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration as chief administrative officer and first deputy mayor when they elevated Michael Harrison from a lieutenant to a commander to the head of the whole police department in 2014.
He offered high praise to Harrison for his four-and-a-half years at the helm of NOPD.
“I think it’s a great compliment to him, to the City of New Orleans and our police department that someone who’s been in our ranks and our community has been recruited elsewhere because they think he’s the guy to do what’s probably the hardest policing job in the country,” Kopplin said, referring to the Baltimore job. “When Chief Harrison looks back at his accomplishments here, we’ll look back at them over time and say, ‘He was one of the most impactful police chiefs we’ve had in our time in New Orleans.’”
Kopplin said Harrison was handed a very difficult situation, with a new federal consent decree and a severe manpower shortage caused by Landrieu’s across-the-board budget cuts.
“He obviously had limited manpower, so he went and looked at the manpower he had and he took people out of desk jobs and put them on the street,” Kopplin said. “Now, that was challenging, right? Because there were people who were used to being in management, leadership roles who were now being deployed on the beat again so that took some leadership.”
Harrison will soon meet with Baltimore residents before his nomination is officially submitted to the Baltimore City Council.
If approved by the Baltimore City Council, Harrison would lead a police department in a city that had 309 homicides in 2018. Baltimore has also had four police commissioners since 2015.
“To the citizens of New Orleans I would like to say, serving as your police chief for the past four years has been the highest honor and privilege of my 28-year career with the New Orleans Police Department,” Harrison said in his statement from the NOPD. “This city and its people will forever hold a special place in my heart.”
David Hammer and Paul Murphy contributed to this report.