NEW ORLEANS — After making history as the first female police chief of the New Orleans Police Department, Interim Superintendent Michelle Woodfork has undergone a trial by fire over her first few weeks, with more than a murder-a-day on average and lingering questions about what police can do about it.
But in an interview Monday with WWL-TV, Woodfork not only said she is ready for the challenge, but her own crime-fighting plan has quietly been launched.
While there was no press conference or celebrated announcement, the Woodfork era started Monday night with the deployment of a city-wide unit focused on violent offenders.
“After such a violent week, two weeks, we couldn't wait. We had to start doing things now,” Woodfork said while sitting in her still sparsely decorated new office. “Just last night we had 11 felony arrests as a result. We got six guns. We had five narcotics arrests.”
Woodfork said she assembled several specialty units, led by the Special Operations Division, to act as a mobile and proactive force that will focus on crime hotspots.
“You have SOD, you have K-9, traffic,” she said. “You have VCAIT unit, intelligence unit. All of those people are going to be working in tandem, together, in these different areas where the data is telling us these violent crimes are happening.”
With a new command staff and high-profile outside consultants, Woodfork said she is still working on a more comprehensive plan to be revealed in the coming weeks.
But with the recent surge in violence, Woodfork said it was time to change to an almost purely reactive posture of the severely understaffed department. She said the different units that were assembled for Monday’s operation had all been operating previously, but more individually and in a support role.
“I think just the way that they were deployed, the way they were operating didn't give you the best results,” Woodfork said.
Under the nearly four-year tenure of previous Chief Shaun Ferguson, who retired on Dec. 22, nearly all proactive units were disbanded, including district task forces, major narcotics and the celebrated anti-armed robbery TIGER unit.
The department's severe officer shortage was one reason for the pull-back, but strategic choices also play a role, including decisions on how to best wrap up the federal consent decree that the NOPD has been laboring under for a decade.
“I recognized that it was necessary. We couldn't just be reactive anymore. That was not working for us,” Woodfork said.
Despite advice from New York police commander Fausto Pichardo, hired as a police consultant by the non-profit New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, Woodfork says the plan is hers.
“Sometimes, you just have to go back to basic gumshoe policing,” she said.
Despite working under the “interim” label and stating her desire to be named permanent at the end of the city’s national search, Woodfork said her approach to securing the job is successfully handling the task in front of her.
“I think my work is going to speak for itself,” she said. “There are going to be some people who love me and some people who hate me. But I'm going to do the best I can do right here, right now, in this moment and not worry about whether the interim term is going to go away.”