NEW ORLEANS — In a seismic shake-up that has been widely rumored for months, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson is retiring after nearly four years at the helm of the police department, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Tuesday.
The mayor’s announcement does not give a specific date when Ferguson will be stepping down, nor does it name a successor.
“The City of New Orleans will soon bid farewell to a great leader, a great partner and a great friend,” Cantrell wrote in a statement. “After 24 years of dedicated public service to the City of New Orleans, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson will retire at the end of this year. He gave this city his very best – the safety and wellbeing of each and every resident and visitor was always his top priority.”
Ferguson was named chief with much pomp and circumstance by Cantrell in January 2019 to replace outgoing Chief Michael Harrison, who had accepted the job as police chief in Baltimore. Ferguson’s Gallier Hall swearing-in ceremony was complete with a police honor guard and one final inspection of the troops by Harrison.
Yet Cantrell’s selection of Ferguson from within the ranks was criticized by many who favored a national search, especially with crime on the rise and the department laboring under a federal consent decree since 2012.
With no successor being named, there has been rampant speculation on who might be named as the next chief. While many big-city police departments conduct national searches to find chiefs with proven track records, there has been no talk of such a move by Cantrell.
Instead, a couple of names have surfaced as potential successors, including Jonette Williams, currently Deputy Chief of Management Services Bureau. It is believed that a successor will be named later this week.
Ferguson is leaving at a delicate time for the department, the city and the embattled mayor. The city is not only fighting a post-pandemic surge in violent crime, especially murders and carjackings, the consent decree is viewed as sapping morale among the rank-and-file in addition to its roughly $8 million annual cost to the city.
With wholesale departures of front-line cops leaving the NOPD struggling with an all-time low of fewer than 1,000 officers, Cantrell has launched a series of initiatives to stop the bleeding, led by signing and retention bonuses.
Along with the incentives, the administration has given its blessing to the hiring of prominent outside consultants to overhaul NOPD operations. Being paid for by the non-profit New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, former New York police commander Fausto Pichardo has been embedded with the NOPD since mid-September. He is being assisted by New Mexico-based management consultant John Linder.
Linder is well-known by many police veterans for his consulting work with the NOPD in the late 1990s under then-Chief Richard Pennington. Teaming up with another New York super-cop, the late Jack Maple, the duo helped craft the “Pennington Plan,” under which murders were cut by more than half from 424 in 1994 to 158 in 1999.
Whoever is line to be named as Ferguson’s replacement, the Pichardo-Linder team is expected to play a major role as advisors.
In the meantime, with a formal press conference expected Wednesday morning, Cantrell wrote glowingly about Ferguson.
“Since joining the NOPD in 1998, Chief Ferguson has served with honor, distinction and integrity,” Cantrell wrote. “As Superintendent, Chief Ferguson helped shape the NOPD into a strong, trustworthy, professional and efficient department, capable of repairing the broken rapport between the NOPD and our citizens and business owners. His tenure as Chief saw the national rise in crime due to the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but under his diligent leadership, the NOPD persevered. Over this last year, the city has seen serious reductions in crime, such as aggravated assaults, sexual assaults, business and residential burglaries and non-fatal shootings. We have also seen more illegal guns being taken off our streets, with nearly 2,500 illegal guns seized just this year. His community-focused approach has helped mend the relationships between our officers and our residents. We can see that Chief Ferguson’s strong commitment, willingness to consult with other public safety experts and his well-trained police force are making a difference in this city today.”
Ferguson issued a statement also: “I want to thank Mayor Cantrell and her administration for their constant support over the past four years. I also want to thank the men & women of the NOPD for their continued hard work and service its citizens.”
“After 24 years of service in a profession that takes a lot out of the individuals who answer this call, it is time for me to take a step back and place more priority on my family and my own well-being,” he wrote. “I will still be your neighbor and I will always be a part of this city that I love so much.”
► Get breaking news from your neighborhood delivered directly to you by downloading the new FREE WWL-TV News app now in the IOS App Store or Google Play.