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NOPD losing cops faster than it can replace them

14th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

Local FBI chief, mayor butt heads on issue of federal support
The bad news just keeps on coming for the embattled New Orleans Police Department as it undergoes implementation of a federally mandated consent decree and grapples with higher rates of violent crime and what city and NOPD leaders describe as a severe manpower shortage.

The latest numbers available show that the embattled police department has lost two and a half times the number of officers it has been able to recruit thus far this year, WWL-TV reported recently.

The number of NOPD officers has reportedly dropped to a new low with 1,139 officers currently on the force, including 27 recruits going through a nine-month academy class.

The NOPD is operating with about 70 percent of the 1,600 cops Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the force needs to adequately protect New Orleans.

In an effort to stop the “blue hemorrhaging,” the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 late this spring to relax the city’s residency rule in order to allow for the recruitment of cops, firefighters and EMS workers who live outside of Orleans Parish.

Although that has been music to the ears of concerned residents, the NOPD has not yet been able to capitalize on the ordinance rule changes. Only 27 of the 32 NOPD recruits that began nine months of training this spring are still part of the police academy. Three recruits dropped out the first week.

Even as the NOPD seeks to replace the officers that are leaving at a rate of one about every 60 hours, Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble told WWL-TV that 73 officers have left the force this year.

NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas told WWL-TV that it’s normal to lose about 110 officers every year to attrition, but New Orleans is on track to lose nearly 150. Some of those that left the department retired, while others were fired or left to secure jobs in other law enforcement agencies, according to police unions.

“The officers are seeing other opportunities elsewhere they’re not seeing here,” said Donovan Livaccari of the Fraternal Order of Police.

And the city is a long way from the mayor’s goal of hiring 150 new recruits in 2014.

The City of New Orleans has budgeted funds for the hiring of 150 police officers , including those who may be willing to leave their jobs in various other law enforcement agencies to join the NOPD, and the police chief has said that the department has hired 22 civilians to free up additional officers to patrol the streets of New Orleans.

Both the Metropolitan Crime Commission and the city’s Office of Inspector General said in recent reports that the NOPD needs to do a better job of utilizing its available personnel to put more officers on the street and recommended hiring civilians to perform various office duties.

In another report issued this spring, NOPD consent-decree monitor Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton said the NOPD “has a long way to go” before it is compliant with federal standards of constitutional policing.

The city continues to add recruits to its next class and is reportedly conducting background checks on more than 80 applicants.

“If the city wants to hire more police officers, it needs to make the NOPD a more attractive place for people to work and a more attractive place for current employees to stay,” Livaccari told WWL-TV

Landrieu has also asked that 100 state troopers be permanently assigned to New Orleans.

State police have dedicated 50 troopers to patrol New Orleans through Labor Day, but they say a more permanent plan would hurt their force.

“This police department has historically always been able to manage law enforcement in this city and now we cannot. Basically, the mayor has said, we can’t do it,” Michael Glasser, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told WWL.

Police unions say one of the main reasons cops are leaving the force has to do with changes to the paid detail system, as spelled out in the federally mandated consent decree. They say number of NOPD’s paid details has dropped significantly, and so has the income of officers who relied on them.

“It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” said Glasser.

“There are times when there are one or two cops showing up for roll call, sometimes there’s more there’s even less. People have to be taken off other watches, have to be taken off of other assignments to supplement the platoons,” added Glasser.

In an interview last year, local NAACP president Danatus King reminded The Louisiana Weekly that the U.S. Department of Justice called the NOPD’s paid detail system an “aorta of corruption” and said that officers’ use of paid details to supplement their salaries has the potential to create public-safety issues. “It’s simple,” King said. “You can’t work a shift as a cop and work a paid detail at the same time. Something has to give, and if officers are determined to milk the system to supplement their salaries, public safety will suffer.”

New Orleans resident Renard Thomas told WWL that he doesn’t feel safe in his own neighborhood and wants to see more police patrols.

“Zero to none is what I’m seeing,” said Thomas.

But others like eastern New Orleans resident Tyrone Foucher say that despite the dwindling manpower, they are happy with the police presence in their neighborhood.

“I see their presence, their presence is a lot, anytime you walk out during the day you might see one or two police passing,” said Foucher. “I feel pretty safe.”

Civil service has received nearly 2,000 applications for the NOPD since November, Gamble told WWL.

The NOPD gave promotions and pay raises to a total of 400 officers in 2012 and 2013 combined, Gamble said. Another 200 officers are under review for a promotion.

In other NOPD-related news, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Anderson fired back recently after Mayor Mitch Landrieu questioned the federal government’s commitment to fighting crime in U.S. cities since the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York 13 years ago.

“For the last 10 years, they have been for the most part absent in terms of their responsibility of taking care of public safety on the streets of America,” Landrieu said at a press conference just two days after the French Quarter shooting that claimed the life of 21-year-old Brittany Thomas.

“After September 11th, the FBI turned its attention to terrorism,” Landrieu said. “And, they turned away from street crime as a priority.”

The mayor’s comments surprised some who had witnessed the Landrieu administration heaping praise on the Multi-Agency Gang Task
Force that has been used to corral the suspects in last year’s Mother’s Day second-line shooting and what authorities have described as violent street gangs.

In a guest column that appeared in The New Orleans Advocate, Anderson refuted the mayor’s claim and reminded readers of the federal government’s contributions to getting violent criminals off the streets of New Orleans.

“I just wanted to make sure that people know that here in this community, the FBI has a very strong presence,” Anderson wrote, “and we’re continuing to work well with our partners as well as the mayor’s office.”

While Anderson said the number of FBI New Orleans agents has increased over the years, he would like to see more.

“We have a lot dedicated to the issue right now, but we could always use more,” Anderson said.

Responding to Anderson’s comments, the Mayor said, “FBI New Orleans is an incredible partner to the New Orleans Police Department, but much like the NOPD, it is operating under tight budget constraints. The bottom line is that more must be done at every level of government to keep our streets safe and we should all be advocating for more resources from the federal and state level to increase our impact on the ground.”

This article originally published in the July 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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