Friday, October 05, 2007

A Sheriff for New Orleans?

Monday Harry Lee, longtime Sheriff of Jefferson Parish passed away. Today marks his final passing from the scene as his larger than life funeral continues his larger than life presence. We'll still be talking about him for a long time.

Sheriff Harry Lee
I have noticed a few things. First is Harry Lee will be hard to replace. Where are we going to get another 300 pound Chinese Cowboy? They don't grow on trees.

I also noticed the reaction from some of my fellow bloggers. Some had no use for him. Some expressed a sort of grudging respect. I really don't know what to make of him. He was frequently accused of being a racist, but most of his insensitive statements had an element of truth and may have been meant as deterrents. I respected his willingness to speak his mind.

One thing has occurred to me that might be completely off base. Although African Americans make up almost a third of the population of around 450,000, I don't know many African Americans who live in Jefferson Parish. The handful I have spoken to have almost the same reaction, an embarrassed respect for him. One person said "I had my problems with him but he did keep the people safe." Cliff sort of agrees. Even Joe Horn said some nice things about him on the radio, in between "I"s and "me"s. Apparently Harry was also a big Joe Horn fan, wearing Joe's jersey to games and public events. I wonder if the larger Jefferson Parish African American Community feels the same way? I kind of think they might.

In contrast the mostly black NOPD with a mostly black command structure seems to inspire less confidence from their black citizens than a supposedly racist Chinese suburban sheriff did from his black citizens. If Harry Lee won an election with 70% of the vote at least some blacks must have voted for him.

I've been thinking about the JPSO as well. Perhaps it's the difference between suburban and urban politics, but I don't recall the JPSO being involved in as many scandals as the NOPD. Perhaps I wasn't paying attention. I did some checking for statistics and I couldn't really find the answers.

Harry Lee's entry on the Louisiana Sherriff's Association web site says the JPSO has 1621 officers. That's more than the NOPD, of course the JPSO also does more. They combine the functions of the NOPD, the Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff and the Orleans Parish Criminal Sherriff' and possibly other offices. That seems not to be a horrible idea.

I wonder whether we should make the Orleans Parish Sheriff the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of New Orleans. An elected sheriff would have the ability to create a dedicated tax revenue stream (outside the greedy hands of the Mayor), would not be subject to political pressure from the host of politicians in the City and would be directly accountable to the people for their safety.

Imagine if (a few years ago) Richard Pennington had been able to run for Sheriff. I wouldn't vote for him for Mayor, but I would have voted for him for Sheriff. He now seems to be doing an outstanding job as Chief of Police in Atlanta. I especially admire the way he confronts problems head on, much like Harry Lee but much more polished.


Pistolette said...

Where are we going to get another 300 pound Chinese Cowboy?

Hahaha! Agreed. He was one of a kind. I liked his plain talk - at least you didn't have to wonder what he was thinking or what he was up to. He told you straight up. Whether I agreed with him on a particular issue or not, I respected the man for living honest.

swampwoman said...

eloquent post, quite a fitting eulogy

Watercolor said...

Gosh. I think Harry Lee was sheriff out there when I was a kid. I know our sheriff here is certainly more useful and competent than our police chief.

Puddinhead said...

Yeah...I particularly respect him for the way he helped get William Jefferson re-elected so a Jefferson Parish pol would get an earlier "second shot" at the seat.

Leigh C. said...

I never knew what to make of Harry Lee, either. Seemed to be a polarizing character if ever there was one. All I remember him for were the Zephyrs commercials he did where he nearly shot Boudreaux, the nutria mascot.