Kenner considers adding deputy police chief post

Taking advantage of a recent change to state rules, the Kenner Police Department is looking to create a new deputy police chief position since seniority guidelines for the job have been lifted.

The Kenner City Council will consider an ordinance this week that would allow the Police Department to create the position of deputy police chief and make it part of the department’s Civil Service system.

Police Chief Steve Caraway requested the change after abolishing the position of director of operations, which previously served as the de facto deputy chief.

Caraway said he’s making the move to take advantage of new state guidelines that allow more freedom in the selection of deputy police chiefs.

In the past, candidates for the position had to meet certain baseline criteria and take an exam, but departments were required to automatically hire the most senior applicant who passed the test.

That greatly reduced the discretion police chiefs enjoyed and made filling the position a potential headache, Caraway said.

“It’s kind of handcuffed police chiefs for many years,” Caraway said. “You have to promote strictly based on seniority.”

He noted that there are times when the most senior officer might not be the best person to serve as deputy chief.

More importantly, Caraway said, a police chief needs to select his own deputy chief so that he can have full confidence in the person filling the position. A deputy chief might be required to speak in the community, conduct staff meetings or even run the department’s operations if the chief is unavailable, he said. Having a deputy chief forced upon you would be a serious handicap, Caraway said.

“Basically whoever was the senior person had to be promoted,” Caraway said. “The argument was always that we want the best person for the job.”

Caraway isn’t alone in thinking the previous rules were a hindrance to good police work.

Westwego Police Chief Dwayne “Poncho” Munch said that although his officers have civil service protection, the department enjoys a special exemption that allows deputy chiefs to operate outside civil service guidelines.

In Gretna, all of the police officers serve as “at-will” employees, Chief Arthur Lawson said.

Munch argued against promotion based on seniority in all policing positions. He said rewarding officers strictly based on longevity promotes complacency, not competency.

“You don’t have to worry about being a productive guy; you just have to do enough to get by,” Munch said.

Although the previous laws were put in place to make certain that cronyism didn’t punish longtime employees, Munch argues that they also failed to reward officers who worked hard and sought to better themselves with more education.

He thinks police departments should be able to choose who gets promoted based on a list of five candidates with the highest scores on the civil service exam.

“The senior person is not always the most capable person for the job,” Munch said.

“As a police chief, you want the person who is going to be your right-hand guy, who is going to get things done. You want to pick whoever you want to pick,” he added.

Caraway said that if the council approves the new position, it could be a few months before a test is administered and someone is hired.