Montgomery "Monte" Higginbotham

NOPD 4th district commander & embattled community policing enthusiast

Description:

“For many Americans, the image of the police as a protection force diminished significantly during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when nation-wide television broadcasts showed members of the Chicago Police force brutally clubbing and using tear gas on young white Americans. For many, the scene was reminiscent of the days when police indiscriminately beat African Americans during peaceful protest marches in segregated southern states.”
—Lee P. Brown

“Many in our community have to live in fear of both the cops and the robbers.
—Al Sharpton

“The police are the public, and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
—Sir Robert Peel

“Our African ancestors were the first to engage in breathing. By that logic, I think by breathing today, we are engaging in cultural appropriation of the first homo sapiens. And so the only way I will ask you to stop being racist is to suffocate–to stop breathing.“
—Gad Saad

“There was never a time when the police officer was everyone’s friend, and there will never be such a time in the future.”
—Peter Waddington

Montgomery_Higginbotham.jpg


Description


The NOPD’s 4th District Commander is best (or perhaps most kindly) described as ‘solid’, like a piece of semi-sanded wood. Tall and wide-shouldered, his frame has the vestiges of a Spartan linebacker, but one whose angles have grown soft with age, disuse, and doughy roundness. His face is similarly stout, with wide jowls, long flat ears, a straight nose, stolid-thin lips, and small, inset eyes that seem like afterthoughts. His once-brown hair hasn’t so much grayed as vanished, leaving naught but a modern-day tonsure whose bald spot is perpetually hidden by a hat, be it his laureled commander’s cap or straw gambler. His on- and off-duty ‘uniforms’ similarly match: the former proudly bears 22 commendation bars, while the latter typically involves luxury-touch polos and high-waisted golfing slacks. In contrast to such wardrobe changes, Montgomery’s voice is obdurant, with a perpetually too-high timbre that sounds like he’s been sipping iced tea with a splash of helium.

Bio:

History


Early Life

Born in Baton Rouge during his father’s senior year as a LSU lineman, Montgomery Lawson Higginbotham lived less than a year in Louisiana before his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There, his father’s BA in Anthropology and lackluster grades landed him an inglorious job as a front line manager at a dog food canning factory. Being barely one step above blue collar meant that most of the family’s bills were paid on time, but with little leftover. As a consequence, Montgomery was raised on three paternal-drilled truths: (1) football is a glorious hobby but not a job, (2) a good-paying job requires good grades and a collegiate degree worth more than toilet paper, and (3) affording such a degree requires (for blue collar families like his) a scholarship.

By the time Montgomery graduated high school, his grades were good enough to get accepted to most state schools, including his father’s alma mater and his local Mizzou. However, it was Michigan State that offered him a full ride scholarship–but for his brawn rather than brains, as the Spartans needed a middle linebacker fitting Montgomery’s specs. Montgomery thus headed north and majored in Political Science with the intention of going to law school. His major, however, exposed him to a variety of liberal ideologies as well as left-leaning, culturally diverse circles, from draft-dodging hippies to gun-toting Black Panthers.

Political Activism

When the ’68 primary came, Montgomery initially canvassed hard for McCarthy, only to switch to Bobby Kennedy, and then back to McCarthy after the latter was assassinated in California. That summer, Montgomery and other local Students for a Democratic Society took the train to Chicago to attend¬–or more accurately, protest¬ outside–the Democratic National Convention. There, he and his other protestors found the International Amphitheatre ringed with barbed wire, 11,000 Chicago PD officers, 6,000 National Guard, and an unknown number of CIA spies. He watched as the Yippies’ leaders threatened to send “super hot” hippie girls and “studs” to respectively seduce the delegates and their wives and daughters, claimed they were pumping LSD into the convention center’s water supply, and released a pig to run pell-mell in the Civic Center Plaza on live national television. He heard of the Chicago PD’s crackdown on the Blackstone Rangers. He watched convention security punch Dan Rather on live TV; protestors in Grant Park burn American flags, raise the Viet Cong flag, and throw manure and urine at police; and police brutally retaliate with copious teargas, billy clubs, and rifle-butts.

Despite being involved in purely peaceful protesting, Montgomery received his own share of club cracks and gulps of tear gas. He barely escaped arrest, only through the timely interference of the Young Lords, a local Latino street gang turned political activists. In the aftermath, Montgomery met the gang’s leader, José ‘Cha Cha’ Jiménez, whose story and platform left a far more lasting impact than any billyclub concussion. When Montgomery made it back to MSU, he took a course from Dr. Bob Trajanowcz, a professor of criminal justice devoted to “postcolonial policing”. By the semester’s end, Montgomery abandoned his law school dreams to pursue criminal science. He avidly studying Peelian Principles, related recommendations by Johnson’s ‘67 Blue Ribbon Committee on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, and recent empirical studies like Kansas City’s preventative patrol experiment. His senior thesis was on the nearby Flint PD’s study which found that foot versus car patrols improved community-police relations.

Entering Law Enforcement

Two years later, Montgomery had a BS in criminal science and was working on his master’s thesis under Dr. Trajanowcz. That project led him to Dallas where he participated in the city’s ’71 experiment with placing minority cops in minority neighborhoods. To support himself, pay for MSU’s pricey graduate tuition, and nominally gain greater access to his “experimental subjects”, Montgomery joined the Dallas PD. Much to Montgomery’s delight (if not the DPD’s), the experiment was a rousing success, and the white officer received a somewhat backhanded promotion to lead the “black and brown” cops. Ensuring the project’s sustainment and success, however, proved more than a full-time job, especially as he was consulted by Cincinnati’s similar team policing experiment. As a consequence, Montgomery failed to defend his thesis manuscript before automatically matriculating out of his MS program. He did, however become an outspoken proponent of community policing, publishing editorials in local newspapers and opinion pieces and reviews in academic journals such as Crime Science, American Journal of Police Science, Science & Justice, Journal of Police Strategies & Administration, Crime Prevention & Community Safety, and Policing & Society.

One of these articles gained national attention (at least among criminal scientists and policing experts) when he wrote about the murder of NOPD’s Officer Gregory Neuport in the Fischer Projects. On November 1980, Neuport had been shot through the neck and left in a ditch beside the crime-ridden projects, prompting several retaliatory raids by the NOPD, which resulted in several fatal shootings of black citizens caught in the crossfire and subsequent raids, riots, protests, and civil suits against the NOPD. Montgomery’s editorial laid the chief blame of the murders (including Neuport’s) at the NOPD’s “failed leadership that foolishly clung to outdated fire brigade policing tactics versus embracing evidence-based community policing strategies that protect both police and the communities they swear to serve.” His controversial comments might have remained debated solely in scholarly circles, had not the The Times Picayune printed excerpts of his piece, which lead to Louisiana’s then-Democratic governor, Jim Jameson, referencing it during a news conference (potentially to deflect attention away from his most recent infidelity scandal). Unsurprisingly, the NOPD’s top brass (and especially the 4th District’s commander) were displeased, resulting in several published rebuttals and vitriolic press conferences.

Spat with NOPD

What followed was a 7-year on- and off-again spat between Montgomery (who had rose to become Police Chief of Grand Prairie, a racially diverse suburb southwest of Dallas) and NOPD’s 4th District Commander: Travis Burchett. Travis was a rare “carnivore” commander who decried “broken windows” policing as being too slow and too soft, in contrast to his favored strop-and-frisk policies (or as locals described it, “shoot-and-frame”). These opposing philosophies came to NOPD’s forefront in August ’87, when children were hurled out of a window from a third story apartment building in the Fischer Projects, resulting in the death of an 8-year-old girl. Claudia McGowing, the mother of three children, had been stabbed to death right before her three children were thrown from the window. The man accused and convicted of the crime was Billy Brown, the boyfriend of McGowing, who had been intoxicated by a drug called “clickum Juice,” (i.e., PCP). According to the papers, the use of “clickum Juice” and heroin were widespread in the Fischer community, and the innocent people living within this community were outraged. One community member that witnessed the children being thrown from the window saved their two of the children’s lives by breaking their fall. Ultimately, it was enraged community members who apprehended (and brutally beat) Billy Brown, with the NOPD only subsequently detaining him (after clubbing the community activists for not “staying in their lane”). Once again, Montgomery laid the continued murders and police brutality at Burchett’s feet. The local Algereens seemed to concur, and the subsequent civil suit, growing budget deficits, and increasing negative press finally scared the NOPD to action.

That action entailed a rather byzantine turn of events over the next two years wherein the NOPD settled out of court with the Fischer civil suit complainants. That settlement included not only monetary damages but also an “early retirement” for Commander Burchett and official recognition of a community police consultative group. With that group pushing for further changes in local police leadership and policies, the NOPD Superintendent performed a circus-style press briefing, wherein he called out Chief Higginbotham to “put his money where his mouth has been” and “show NOPD’s old dogs the new tricks” of community policing. Most assumed the NOPD hoped to scare their long-time critic into silence, though the most jaded (or wise) believed the NOPD’s top brass were actually baiting Montgomery into accepting command over the crime-ridden district in hopes that he would fail, allowing the NOPD to subsequently fire him and sweep away any further calls for serious reforms.

The NOPD Commander

Much to their chagrin, Montgomery accepted the job–and notably succeeded. By the summer of his first year as the 4th’s commander, Montgomery managed to generate enough community buy-in to support a joint community-citizen taskforce that led to a mass crackdown on crime in the Fischer Projects, netting 18 arrests of the most feared gangbangers, seizures of multiple machine guns and 40 lbs. of heroin, and beefed up 8–9-hour biweekly patrol shifts. Moreover, these gains occurred without a single collateral killing, community protest, or civil suit. Additionally, the crackdown gathered sufficient evidence to convict all 18 arrestees, sending them to the Farm for at least four decades.

Needless to say, Montgomery and the local community were delighted. Less so were the NOPD top brass, or Burchett’s old guard still serving in the 4th. The former couldn’t publicly complain, and only so many of the latter could transfer. However, the top brass were far from impotent, as they more surreptitiously retaliated by disproportionally cutting the 4th district’s budget and access to material resources, citing how Montgomery had long lauded community policing as being more cost-efficient than traditional methods. Wise to their true motivation, but unable to publicly call light to it, Montgomery handled the deep budget cuts by replacing most of the district’s expensive patrol cars with cheaper bikes. Other now-carless cops were reassigned to foot patrols, and both groups were tasked to do proactive ‘beats’, as Montgomery cited numerous studies that such policies better prevent crime and improve community-police relations.

These changes, however, prompted a renewed flood of transfer requests and early retirements, as many officers had grown quite accustomed to resting in the comfort of their AC-cooled patrol cars and did not relish walking or bike-riding for hours on end under the swamp sun. Initially, Montgomery replaced these disgruntled employees with officers loyal to his vision of community policing, and when possible, those of minority background. The top brass, however, has since pumped the brakes on this strategy by regularly issuing hiring freezes in the 4th, which over the past two-and-a-half decades have left the 4th the NOPD’s most grossly underfunded and understaffed district. In response, Montgomery has had to severely “flatten the organizational pyramid”, which has meant placing greater decision-making and discretion in the hands of his front-line officers (a fact which some of them greatly enjoy). These circumstances have also ironically forced even the most old-school officer in the 4th to rely on local citizens’ support and assistance, including off-loading certain responsibilities (if not whole communities) to neighborhood watch groups. Since the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 established the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) within the Justice Department, Montgomery has also spent increasing, and increasingly successful, time writing and procuring federal block-grants from the DoJ. With these tightly earmarked funds (overseen by the National Center for Community Policing, which is fortuitously housed by his alma mater), Montgomery has hosted regular community-police carnivals, complete with BBQs, pony rides, and concerts performed by local musicians and cops alike.

The results are telling. Since Montgomery’s takeover in 1987, the 4th District’s crime rates–at least as measured in FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, National Incident-Based Reporting System, and Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey–have plummeted. Granted, so too has the national average, but the 4th district’s improvements have been particularly notable in contrast to the NOPD’s other districts. Moreover, much of these gains have occurred in the district’s poorest areas, such as McDonogh, Whitney, and even the Fischer Projects. The latter area specifically underwent redevelopment in the 2000s, which included a $1.2 million joint COPS and HANO block grant that demolished the Projects’ 13-story high rise and three 3-story low rises, replacing them with 640 new public and Section 8 housing units alongside a new nursing home, community center, and playgrounds.

Criticisms

None of which is to say Commander Higginbotham is without his critics, even within his district. Namely, some claim the low crime rates are artificial, such that crime hasn’t decreased, just the reporting of it to the over-committed police. Other critiques say the reduced crime rates is mostly due to Montgomery’s reversal of Burchett’s policy of aggressively (if not downright violently) ticketing and arresting citizens for jawwalking, sleeping on park benchs, spiting, littering, loitering, playing car stereos too loud, putting feet up on buses, and other venial violations. Others in turn complain that Montgomery has allocated the vast majority of his still mainly white police force to patrol the whitest, richest areas of his district–i.e., Algiers Point, Aurora Gardens, and Walnut Bend–and comparatively neglect its richest, most racially diverse sections, abandoning those areas to unchecked neighborhood watch groups, de facto street gangs, and vigilante justice. Meanwhile, Delron Mouton, Nolan Moreno, and other supporters of the French Quarter Response Force note that the 4th District–with its mostly bike and foot patrols–has one of NOPD’s slowest 911 response times, particularly in the aforementioned poor, minority neighborhoods. Citing this fact, the Trashnova has allegedly made overtures to Montgomery to expand his service to Algiers Point, noting that many of his app’s users frequent the ferry-connected, touristy neighborhood. According to those gossipmongers, Montgomery hasn’t said ‘yes’, but nor has he said ‘no’. Which answer he settles on, and at what cost, remains unclear.

Off-Duty Activities

When not working his shifts at the 4th District’s main offices in Federal City, Montgomery spends his time in his genteel home in Aurora Gardens. There, he reads up on criminal science publications; writes related manuscripts; tosses a tennis ball to his King Charles spaniel, Cha-Cha; sips on iced tea; and watches football on his big screen, either with or without his adult children and grandchildren. Beyond attending an actual Saints game in person, he idles a good chunk of his time a few blocks south, playing sets of nines and practicing his short-game at the Lakewood Golf Club. More nights than not, he dines at Lakewood’s clubhouse, eating anything besides shrimp, crawfish, or shellfish while pining for Kansas City-style BBQ. When weather precludes such activities, he has recently opted to devote time to a new hobby: African archeology. This late-life interest initially focused on the Pastoral Neolithic period, particularly the Saharan ruins of Gobero, but has since branched out to studying art from Dhar Tichitt, Oualata, and Koumbi Saleh, and collecting terracotta, stone, and bronze sculpture replicas from the Nok culture on Jos Plateau that would become the Yoruba kingdom of Ilé-Ifè. Few are aware of this new penchant, and Montgomery has told even fewer that he believes this study gives him better insight into the African psyche of his black constituents. And even fewer than that would tell the lifelong Democrat just how racist that sounds.

Chief among them, though, would be his ex-wife, Blaire Barrilleaux; and adoptive black grandson, D’Mario.


Relationships


NOPD Upper Ranks

Most of the NOPD, or at least its top brass, bears Montgomery no small antipathy. The 4th’s commander remains an outspoken critic of traditional policing methods and the related brutalities, racial conflicts, and inefficiencies they tend to breed. As such, most of his fellow district commanders as well as deputy superintendents treat him with cool disdain at best.

At worst is Delron’s open harassment (which usually involves farting whenever Montgomery tries to speak during cross-district meetings and forwarding borderline NSFW advertisements for erection-enhancement supplements) or the outright stonewalling by the deputy superintendent of the Field Operations Bureau. He allegedly hasn’t answered an email from Montgomery since Vanilla Ice last released a hit single.

Montgomery’s closest thing to a friend among the top brass is Commander Gettis, who likes to talk football–but not policing–with the former linebacker and son of a LSU lineman, and the civilly appointed Deputy Superintendent Landry, as Montgomery has long given up on submitting extra requisitions to the formerly corrupt office.

As for the superintendent himself, Bernard presents a publicly sympathetic if often aloof face. However, that mask fools no one, as Montgomery and all the other commanders know Bernard was close friends with Travis Burchett (and remains godfather to his now-adult sons, Trigger and Steele). All in all, the top brass’ stance has settled into one of containment, and they have proven quite successful at it.

NOPD Lower Ranks

In terms of ‘bottom brass’, Montgomery’s reputation isn’t much better, at least outside his district, especially as Burchett’s supporters (including 4th District transfers) have long since slandered Montgomery and his policies.

Within his district, the commander’s reputation is notably better though, as a plurality of his cops have become accustomed to, if not enamored with, his community policing procedures, if not principles. For example, most of his officers have developed strong, positive ties to their long-assigned communities–ties which have been further bolstered with Montgomery using his influence to pressure local HOAs and utilities to give his officers discounted mortgages and bills if they live in their ‘beat’. Attending free carnivals, concerts, and BBQs don’t hurt, either. Nor does the swag semi-regularly donated from appreciative neighborhood watch groups.

Among the minority naysayers in his force, the most common complaint is being tired of walking or listening to some new criminal science study, which is pretty timid stuff for the NOPD’s graft- and vice-ridden leadership.

Academia

Even less equivocal is Montgomery’s glowing reception amongst most criminal science scholars and national community policing advocates. These include not only his former advisor, Dr. Trajanowcz, but also the likes of Kenneth Peak, Mike Brogden, Robert Ankony, and Stan Shernock, with whom he regularly corresponds and sometimes co-authors criminal, social, and policing publications. He exchanges Christmas cards and birthday calls with the editors of Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management and Journal of Police Science and Administration.

Outside of the NOPD, he’s regularly consulted by other police leaders on how to implement community policing techniques. Indeed, during the demolition of the last Fischer Projects low-rise in 2008, Montgomery was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Dillard University in recognition of his humanitarian work. Later, after largely converting the entire Camden County Police Department to community policing in 2013, Montgomery was awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Law from his alma mater. Currently, his honoris causa¬ degrees require two hands to count, and it is likely he will need a bigger office wall to hang them on if he continues at his present rate, particularly as his other windowless wall is filled with vinyl lettering which spells Montgomery’s favorite quote by Sir Robert Peel:

“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”

Montgomery "Monte" Higginbotham

Blood and Bourbon False_Epiphany Dreamwaker