Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Desire Terrorist

The Roots of Corruption: Part 3 -- Lowering the Bar

Until the early 1980s, the New Orleans Superintendent of Police was usually chosen by the mayor from the ranks of the Old Guard. By the middle of the decade, however, the ranks of the Old Guard were thinning out through retirement and attrition. Many of them were leaving for better paying jobs in the private sector or with the federal government. At the same time, the city's racial composition had begun changing radically. "White flight" to the outlying suburbs had given New Orleans a population that was 65% black. Black activists and community organizations began demanding that NOPD hire more black officers, and the city administration complied.

Ernest 'Dutch' Morial
Ernest 'Dutch' Morial

In 1978, New Orleans elected its first black mayor, Ernest "Dutch" Morial, father of Marc Morial who was sitting in the same seat in the 1990s. Dutch Morial appointed the city's first black superintendent, Warren Woodfork, about a year before he left office in 1986. Record numbers of black recruits were accepted by the Police Academy and put on the streets on completion of their training. However, these numbers were not sufficient to replace the officers the department was losing through attrition. The department was being depleted of experienced officers and the numbers within the ranks were decreasing as crime stats were rising at an alarming rate.

Warren Woodfork, Police Superintendent
Warren Woodfork, Police Superintendent

Also working against the city's best interests was a "residency requirement" stipulating that police and firefighters must live within the city limits in order to be considered for promotions. When the requirement was codified into law during Marc Morial's administration, it forbade the hiring of non-residents to all "unclassified" (non-civil service) city jobs, in addition to police and firemen. Civil service position holders who were working for the city prior to the law were "grandfathered in" but they could not be promoted until they could prove they had established residence within the city limits. PANO and other organizations representing police and firefighters fought hard against the residency requirement, but they were outgunned by Marc Morial and numerous powerful community groups.

Thus was the stage set for the scenario that was to follow. In order to beef up the rapidly dwindling numbers of NOPD, the department was forced to lower its acceptance standards. Recruits with criminal records, DWIs, unfavorable employment records and dishonorable discharges from the Armed Forces were allowed to enter the Police Academy, whereas they had previously been excluded. A number of these new recruits had been charged with violent crimes as serious as armed robbery and rape. Some were openly recruited from the projects and off the street with no prior experience with the law, other than being on the receiving end of its consequences. Their records were expunged and, on completion of their training, they were issued badges, guns and patrol cars and turned loose on the street.

In so doing, many of these new officers were expected to suddenly straighten up and begin enforcing the laws they had not-so-long-ago been breaking. They were expected to arrest those suspected of crimes, even if those accused had once been their street buddies. But this was an unrealistic expectation. Old loyalties and old habits die hard. Some of these new officers remained loyal to those who had been their partners in crime and they continued their old ways and associations. And, given the level of corruption to which the department had already descended by this time, the ground was  well-seeded to breed further corruption.

Into this ripe environment strode Len Davis.

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