After a turbulent first few months in office that saw several questions arise over his handling of financial and personnel matters, Perkins may have thought he have hit upon an uncontroversial method of selecting a new police chief. During the previous administration, former chief Alan Crump resigned and Ben Raymond became interim chief, with the job opening up officially after Crump used his accumulate leave well into this year.
According to the city charter, the mayor appoints and the City Council must approve of this officer, who then serves until a mandatory retirement age with good behavior as under state law the position is considered classified with civil service protections. Past mayors made the pick themselves without any formally-designated process of community input.
Instead, Perkins decided to farm out the vetting task to an eight-person group comprised of former mayoral opponent and law enforcement officer Republican Jim Taliaferro (who will assume a Caddo Parish Commission seat after fall elections), retiring Democrat Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Victor Jones, Perkins’ campaign manager lawyer Ron Miciotto, campaign supporter lawyer Laurie Lyons, former police Captain E.J. Lewis, City Councilor and the panel’s current chairman Democrat Jerry Bowman who has generally supported Perkins, Democrat District Attorney James Stewart, and Republican Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator. A majority are politically active Democrats; four are black; Perkins is both.
Raymond had applied for the job three years ago and made the finals, which require a minimum score on an exam, along with Lt. Janice Dailey and assistant chief Wayne Smith. Among those making the cut this time was Raymond – who scored the highest both times on the exam – Dailey, Wayne Smith, Lt. Tedris Smith, and Sgt. Michael Carter, who Raymond over Carter’s objections had him transferred to another department. Carter heads the Shreveport Police Officers Association, the local union, sits on the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board that initiates the testing process, and owns an outside consulting firm that he has wanted the city to contract with for training.
The committee tabbed both Smiths, who had the lowest passing scores and who are black. Carter, whose union had endorsed Perkins, also got the nod. Raymond, who is white and had antagonized Carter, was excluded, despite the department’s rank-and-file seeming to approve generally of his interim leadership.
If Perkins had a few allies on that panel, it seems they did one of (1) followed a script set out by him, (2) had other motives in mind than to make it politically easy for him or (3) displayed a shocking degree of political naiveté that their selections wouldn’t create controversy. To all the world it appeared the decision rested more on the race or political affiliation of the applicants than other factors (and maybe sex; Dailey didn’t make the grade).
There’s something to be said about public perception, as possibly an argument could be made that in a city with a majority black population and, like practically every other large municipality, disproportionately has crime committed by blacks, that having a black chief might be better received by the population as a whole. That said, if that thinking had been a factor in the appointment of Crump, who is black and had scored among the lowest of qualifiers, it didn’t work out with former mayor Ollie Tyler – whom Perkins defeated – expressing regret eventually about her choice.
And it seemed just rank politics to include Carter rather than Raymond. Not only did Carter’s union support Perkins, Carter made unflattering comments about Tyler’s decision to appoint Raymond during the runoff election period. Perhaps in response to this, Councilor James Flurry called the process “a political hatchet job.”
To make matters worse, Perkins, who hardly had lived in Shreveport any of his adult life, had left the state prior to announcement of the trio. To add more intrigue to the situation, in his acting mayor role during Perkins’ out-of-state jaunt, Bowman “added” Raymond to the list.
Of course, there was no legal meaning to all of this – Perkins can choose any of the seven who passed the test within 90 days of the previous chief’s departure – but the symbolism was pregnant. (And irritated Carter’s union, which issued a statement opposing that.) Now Raymond appears on equal footing. Was it a method to make Raymond’s omission look less political for the eventual Perkins choice, or did it go further to allow Perkins to save face by putting forth Raymond as the choice?
Regardless of what happens,* it all adds up to another misstep for Perkins. The process to this point either makes him look like he tried to grease the skids without people thinking he did so, or that he created needless conflict that reflects weak leadership -- maybe both. Either way, it doesn’t help his standing with the public.
*NOTE: Shortly after publication of this post, Perkins picked Raymond.