NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s attorney general touted letters of support Thursday from a New Orleans police union, the city’s top prosecutor and the sheriff as he disputed accusations that he’s overstepping his authority with an anti-crime task force.
Last week, New Orleans police chief Michael Harrison wrote Attorney General Jeff Landry a letter saying any such crime-fighting efforts must be conducted under the direction and coordination of police department leaders. Harrison also questioned Landry’s authority to conduct such operations.
“We are aware of no authority that permits you, your employees, or law enforcement agents under your direction to engage in active law enforcement within New Orleans or in general,” Harrison’s letter said.
Landry’s office released letters Thursday commending his efforts from the Police Association of New Orleans, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
With a police force that has shrunk amid tough budget times over the years — some local officials contend that it is 400 to 500 officers short of what it needs — the city has routinely supplemented its own officers with a contingent of state police. Col. Mike Edmonson, the superintendent of Louisiana State Police, said his agency has 35 people in the city and that number balloons by 100 or more during special events.
Landry’s office says his task force is composed of members of the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement officers drawn from New Orleans area agencies. It varies in size from five to 16 members and has made 11 arrests and assisted police with five others since early October.
Gusman called the task force a “critical addition” to crime-fighting efforts.
“If city leaders do not believe that your resources are being deployed in the most efficient manner, then it is incumbent upon them to invite you to the table and offer alternative strategies,” wrote Cannizzaro.
Michael Glasser, who is president of the Police Association of New Orleans, downplayed any problem with a lack of coordination, saying in his letter that “the degree of coordination that is implied to be in place for other agencies is exaggerated.”
The release of the letters is the latest development in a fight over law enforcement turf tinged with partisan politics. Landry is a Republican who has been at odds with the Democratic administrations of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Gov. John Bel Edwards over a variety of issues.
The term-limited Landrieu was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 by large margins. But he has had to fight recurring criticism for allowing the police force to shrink on his watch. A homicide rate that was declining during much of his tenure increased last year. Landry, who could seek re-election or challenge Edwards in 2019, has seized on the New Orleans crime issue in social media videos and press releases. “We simply cannot turn a blind eye to the escalating violence,” he said in a news release Thursday.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Edmonson’s title is colonel, not commander.