Superintendent Serpas to add leadership positions at the top

January 25 2011 | Latest News
He wants to create 16 'colonel' positions

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

By Brendan McCarthy

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas sketched out an ambitious plan Monday to overhaul the department's promotional system and create new leadership positions in the uppermost ranks.

The plan, which Serpas explained to the city's Civil Service Commission at its monthly meeting Monday, prompted heated debate.

The commission would have to sign off on any such changes to the promotional rules within the NOPD.

Several police representative groups strongly criticized the chief's proposal. Lisa Hudson, director of the city's Civil Service Department, asked for additional time to analyze the proposal and study similar initiatives in other cities.

Following a spirited back-and-forth between the groups, the commission voted to have the agencies further study the proposal and work on the nuances before presenting an update at next month's hearing.

Serpas, who took office seven months ago, is seeking to create 16 "colonel" positions, which would rank as the third-highest position within the agency. He called colonel a "hybrid position" -- it would be considered an appointed position, lacking permanent status. If replaced, a colonel would revert to the lower classified position of captain.

The selection of colonels would be overseen by a newly formed committee -- comprised of members of the NOPD, the city's Chief Administrative Officer and a representative from the Civil Service Department -- and would not rely on tests alone. The group would look at several factors in a candidate's portfolio and conduct an interview. Serpas said this process would eliminate favoritism.

Any NOPD employee with the rank of lieutenant, captain or major would be allowed to apply, under Serpas' plan. This would open colonel positions to more than 100 potential candidates.

As part of his plan, Serpas also wants to consolidate or reduce the number of NOPD divisions from 32 to 16. He did not touch upon the details of this consolidation in his speech Monday.

In his 15-minute presentation, Serpas argued that the colonel positions would allow for greater flexibility within the police force and provide accountability.

"The status quo is not acceptable," he said. "The status quo has not served our employees or our community well."

Serpas later said residents of the city seem to have an "unnatural fear" of accountability. He stressed that change can be good.

The commission hearings are typically genial affairs, but the high-stakes nature of the Serpas plan made for a packed house and pointed debate. Serpas slammed the previous administration and explained there was an urgency on his part to get the plan in place and improve the Police Department.

Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin told the commission that the proposal would allow the chief "to accelerate that leadership transformation that is sorely needed."

Police Capt. Michael Glasser of the Police Association of New Orleans noted that Serpas himself was a beneficiary of the civil service testing process years ago. Serpas repeatedly passed promotional exams on a meteoric rise to the top echelon of the NOPD in the 1990s.

Claude Schlesinger, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said that while the group is not opposed to progress, he sees the colonel positions as an "erosion of civil service" process and protections.

A spokesman for the Black Organization of Police also criticized the plan.

Serpas previously streamlined the upper ranks of the NOPD last June in one of his first moves as police chief. At the time, both he and Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the NOPD's executive staff was "bloated" and "top-heavy."

Glasser argued that Serpas' new positions would just add to the upper ranks of the agency, creating more bloat.