‘This is my decision:’ Emotional Ferguson explains his retirement as NOPD superintendent
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Adamant that he was not pressured to leave his post as the NOPD’s superintendent, a solemn and sometimes emotional Shaun Ferguson on Wednesday (Dec. 7) said his decision to retire after 24 years on the city’s police force was his and his alone.
“I was not forced out. This is my decision,” Ferguson said at a news conference at NOPD headquarters, the day after news broke of his planned Dec. 22 departure.
New Orleans City Councilman J.P. Morrell called for Ferguson to be replaced at a public budget hearing on Dec. 1. And Mayor LaToya Cantrell only enjoys autonomy in appointing department heads through Dec. 31, before a city charter change gives the City Council confirmation or veto power over her choices. But Ferguson denied either impacted his decision to step down before the end of the month, saying he came to his decision in November.
“I had a conversation with the mayor about this prior to Thanksgiving,” Ferguson said. “She asked me to think about it some more over the holidays and I thought about it more during the budget process. But at the end of the holidays is when I really made the decision that it was time to go home, time to enjoy my life.”
Ferguson repeatedly mentioned the toll that 24 years as a New Orleans police officer -- and nearly four years as chief -- had taken on his family. To serve the city and department as he had, he said, required his putting his family in blue first in nearly all instances.
“I think it’s time to put the blood first, and invest in my family,” Ferguson said. “My kids have talked about the many things I’ve missed doing this job, and it’s time to put them first again.”
Ferguson’s 25-year-old son Shane has been arrested twice since his father was sworn in as Michael Harrison’s replacement in January 2019.
A 2019 domestic violence case against the son was dismissed and expunged. A more serious arrest in October 2021 -- in which Ferguson’s son was accused of striking and spitting on two NOPD officers during a dispute at the Sewerage and Water Board headquarters -- saw the son placed in District Attorney Jason Williams’ diversion program, rather than prosecuted on the two counts of battery on a police officer with which he was booked.
Court records show that three weeks ago, Shane Ferguson failed to appear for a scheduled Nov. 17 court hearing, resulting in a new warrant for his arrest. That warrant was recalled by an Orleans Parish magistrate judge when the chief’s son went to court last Tuesday.
“I’ve had some challenges in my family the last few years,” Supt. Ferguson acknowledged Wednesday. “And I’ve had some challenges health-wise. ... Twenty-four years of service is what I’ve given, and 24 years is a lot. It’s time. It’s time to get back to what’s important.”
Ferguson praised Cantrell for entrusting him with the department after Harrison retired and left to be Baltimore’s new police chief, and for her steadfast support since.
“She had the confidence to put me in this position,” Ferguson said. “And when many called for me to step down, she stood with me, and I thank her for that.”
Ferguson said he could not think of anything he would have done differently as he guided the NOPD through four difficult years marked by steep manpower declines, rising violent crime, the COVID-19 pandemic, damaging hurricanes and the continued efforts to reach full compliance with the federal consent decree that has overseen the department’s operations for more than 10 years.
“I know I have done my due diligence,” he said. “I have made an impact on this department and on this city. This is a great police department. I love it and can’t be more proud of it.
“It is a very toxic (political) environment right now. To those that have doubted me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Those doubters are just part of life, you’ll always have that. But, absolutely, I think this department is in a better place. I think my greatest accomplishment is bringing this department back together again.”
Sources have told Fox 8 and other news outlets that Cantrell favors naming deputy superintendent Jonette Williams to succeed Ferguson, giving the NOPD the first woman chief in department history. The outgoing chief said he thinks the department has a “bright future,” but did not endorse Williams over any of the NOPD’s other deputy superintendents. Nor did he support a national search for his replacement.
“I think the best person for the NOPD is within the NOPD,” he said. “We have great men and women who can lead this department. I think every deputy chief who has worked with me deserves an opportunity.
“I think (Williams) is a great officer, a great woman. But whoever it is selected, I’ll be here to help.”
Besides taking fire from Morrell and others in City Council chambers, Ferguson’s tenure also was marked by a public spat with Williams. Ferguson was critical of the new district attorney’s office for its handling of felony cases brought to its doorstep by NOPD officers. The Metropolitan Crime commission reported last Friday that Williams’ office still is only accepting for prosecution 51 percent of the violent felony cases submitted in 2022, and only closing 43 percent of felony cases with an actual felony conviction.
“It’s hard to recruit (more police officers), given the climate we’re dealing with right now,” Ferguson said. “We need to hold every aspect of the criminal justice system accountable, not just police. When our officers were dealing with COVID and hurricanes, they were there every day, while others sat back and gave excuses about why they couldn’t or shouldn’t do their job.
“I want to encourage our city leaders to have better communication lines. This isn’t about personal agendas, it’s about the safety of the people of New Orleans. We have to work better with one another, and stop this political showmanship.
“Come to the table, be grown men and women, and let’s work for solutions together.”
Ferguson said he intends to stay in New Orleans and to discuss city affairs on the front porch with his neighbors, without concern that his phone will keep ringing with emergency interruptions.
“I’m not going to a different job in some other city,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll ask what my plans are -- I have none. I’ll be right here, in the city of New Orleans, because I love this city.
“It’s God’s plan, not mine, and I will sit back and see what He wants me to do.”
Watch the full video of Supt. Shaun Ferguson here:
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.
Copyright 2022 WVUE. All rights reserved.