Will Sutton: ‘Forever’ NOPD Chief Woodfork recalls thrills, disappointments, successes

Will Sutton: 'Forever' NOPD Chief Woodfork recalls thrills, disappointments, successes
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I knew something was coming when I saw former Interim New Orleans Police Superintendent Michelle Woodfork walking a Carnival parade route. “This is the last one,” she whispered. “What?!” I exclaimed.

Woodfork didn’t want to discuss it then and there. We were in the middle of a crowded street. As she walked the parade route, she kept a watchful eye on the crowd.

Besides, it wasn’t yet final. There were things to do, like talking things over with her closest confidant — her son Nick, 17, a Holy Cross High School junior.

Since the news broke Wednesday night that she’s retiring, Woodfork’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing.

Former Interim NOPD Police Chief Michelle Woodfork, right, chats with Judge Tiffany Gautier Chase of the Fourth Circuit of the Louisiana Court of Appeals, who was the keynote speaker at the Commencement for Recruit Class #199. It was Woodfork’s last official act as she retired Friday, March 1, 2024 after a 33-year police career.

Her family has been part of NOPD for decades. Her father, Richard Woodfork, served from 1968 to 1974, when he joined the DEA. Her uncle, Warren Woodfork, joined the force in 1964; he was NOPD’s first Black chief from 1985 until he retired in 1991. Michelle Woodfork joined NOPD on Jan. 27, 1991, four months before her uncle retired.

Come Monday, NOPD will be without a Woodfork for the first time in 60 years.

Woodfork thought she’d end her career as a lieutenant. Then, in November 2021, she was pinned a captain by Nick. “I felt like it was a long time overdue when she made captain,” her proud son told me.

Living with his mom’s career has meant sacrifices. “I learned to expect the unexpected,” Nick recalled. “I never knew which shift she’d be working or which neighborhood she’d be assigned to. … Things weren’t ideal at that point.”

Just more than a year after becoming a captain, in December 2022, Woodfork was sworn in as interim chief — the first woman ever to lead the department, even if it was on an “interim” basis.

It was a tough time to lead NOPD. There was uncertainty about city leadership amid a mayoral recall effort. Crime was skyrocketing. New Orleans led the nation in homicides.

“In my mind, I didn’t say it out loud, but I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, she picked me,'” Woodfork said.

Lt. Hudson Cutno with former Interim NOPD Chief Michelle Woodfork

Lt. Hudson Cutno, assistant NOPD police academy commander, left, talks with former Interim NOPD Police Chief Michelle Woodfork before commencement for Recruit Class #199 at Dillard University on Friday, March 1, 2024. It was Woodfork’s last official act before retiring.

In part, she took the job because the NOPD had been a “boys club.” Some talented women — and men — had been overlooked “because of relationships, or the lack thereof,” Woodfork told me. She saw it as her chance to change the culture, to provide more opportunity while fighting crime.

She’s proud of her team’s accomplishments during her brief stint as interim chief. “We got every crime down, not just violent crime,” she said, adding, “Across the nation, it averaged 12% down. We were down 20 to 25%.”

As excited as she was to get the interim appointment, Woodfork was deeply disappointed when Cantrell told her she didn’t get the permanent job.

“Make no mistake about it. It was definitely her right to decide who she thought would be best to serve as the permanent superintendent,” Woodfork said. “Was I disappointed? Yes. Who wouldn’t be? I’m a human being. … And it hurt. … After I licked my wounds for a while, I went back to the mission.”

After Anne Kirkpatrick got the job, Woodfork got strong support from City Council members and others who wanted to see her continue in executive leadership. Under New Orleans Civil Service Commission guidelines, she could stay in a leadership role for up to six months. The city asked the commission to make the position permanent. That request was denied in December.

Other options included being demoted back to captain.

“I just didn’t think I deserved that,” she told me. “I think I deserved to remain on the executive team. … I prayed to make it my decision. I stand on my faith. …God was sending me every message that it was my time. I also saw all the positives.”

Woodfork’s income was $188,000 as interim chief, $172,000 after Kirkpatrick came on, then $181,000 with a recent raise. Now, she walks away with a $97,000 lieutenant’s salary.

Money isn’t everything to Woodfork. She wants to spend time with Nick and her parents. Opportunities can wait.

Besides, she has meant so much to so many during her NOPD tenure. She’s been a role model for community policing. She’s in and “of” the community — a cop who hugged and comforted victims.

For a lot of us, Woodfork is our forever chief.

Next Carnival season, she won’t be walking any parade routes. She says she’ll either be a spectator or take a vacation.

Nick, meanwhile, is looking forward to spending more time with his mom — but he admits, “It will be an adjustment.”

No Michelle Woodfork with the NOPD will be an adjustment for many.


About Mary Weyand 12339 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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