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NOPD manpower shortage raises concerns

31st March 2014   ·   0 Comments

It doesn’t look like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is going to be able to keep the promise he made during his recent re-election bid to put 150 new cops on the street in 2014. And that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the New Orleans Police Department’s inability to attract quality recruits and field a sizable recruit class is exacerbated by the alarming number of cops who are leaving the force.

A smaller police force is being pushed to the limit by the departure of fellow officers and the rising suspicion by residents that the city is not as safe or well-protected as some might have you believe.

To make matters worse, a recent report says the NOPD is far from ready to begin training for its next class of recruits, with just over a dozen meeting the criteria.

While acknowledging that recruit numbers are down, Chief Ronal Serpas attributes those lower numbers in part to the NOPD’s high standards.

In September, NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas told Councilwoman Susan Guidry and other members of the Criminal Justice Committee that the department had 1,200 sworn officers at the time although it was budgeted for 1,260. The picture becomes even more bleak when one considers that some of those officers assigned to various departmental divisions like Homicide and Traffic and activities like desk duty, special assignments and answering radio calls.

While the Landrieu administration has repeatedly praised Chief Ronal Serpas for his leader ship of the NOPD, others have been less kind and patient.

In a recent report, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatreveaux said that average NOPD response times increased 31 percent from less than nine minutes in 2010 to more than 11.5 minutes in 2012.

The NOPD’s growing response time, one of the issues in the recent mayoral race, has been underscored by the story of a New Orleans resident who says she called 911 about someone attempting to kick in the front door to her uptown home in the middle of the night.

The resident did not get an answer the first time she called 911. In all, the resident, Terri Rice, says she made five calls — two to 911, two to the NOPD’s the non-emergency line and one to the NOPD’s Second District. The last call was finally answered and police officers showed up two hours later, long after barking from the family’s pet dog likely scared off the would-be burglars.

The story highlighted how fragile the line is between being living in a safe neighborhood and home and becoming a victim of a potentially violent crime.

WWL-TV reported that no one from the Orleans Parish Communi­cations District was available for on-camera interviews with Eyewit­ness News on Monday.

However, Deputy Mayor Jerry Sneed issued this statement:

“It is a priority for our residents to feel that their concerns will be addressed when calling 9-1-1. All of the city’s public safety agencies are working to significantly in­crease operator staffing, reduce non-emergency call volume, and improve call center management performance.”

“No one feels worse arriving late to help residents than our officers,” NOPD spokesperson Remi Braden said in a statement. “We apologize for the wait time on this call. The NOPD remains focused on hiring quality, professional recruits to better serve our residents and visitors.”

“We keep being told that action is being done to fix it and it doesn’t seem to be happening or it certainly isn’t happening quick enough,” New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry told WWL-TV last week.

“We all feel there is a crisis,” Guidry, who heads the City Council’s criminal justice committee, told Uptown Messenger recently. She pointed out that while murder and violent crime rates have slowed down, the killing of children has not.

“The sense that the public has is that none of us is safe,” Guidry said.

Wednesday’s meeting of the criminal justice committee in Council Chambers was expected to focus on NOPD’s struggles to replace retiring officers and its efforts to improve its performance.

Councilmembers on the criminal justice committee talked about some of the stories they’ve heard from frustrated residents about desperate attempts to get police assistance when they need it the most.

“Two weeks ago there was a young man accosted at his home trying to evict some people from a party. He got shot, and when they called 911, they got a recording,” Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said.

While the money is there to hire more cops and recruitment efforts are under way, Chief Serpas admitted Wednesday that tho recruitment campaign has hit a few snags.

“One of the distractions is domicile, there’s no question about it, you can’t get around the bush,” Serpas told FOX8 News, referring to the City of New Orleans’ residency requirement. “It’s a distraction for laterals, it’s a distraction for original hires. Education could be a distraction. We’ve just got to figure out what distractions we can remove from the process to make the recruitment as efficient as possible.”

“We have a negative attrition rate,” Fraternal Order of Police attorney and former NOPD officer Donavon Livaccari told WWL-TV last August. “There’s no way for us to make up losing 37 people in 62 days when you’re only hiring 60 people over the course of the year.”

Livaccari told WWL-TV that there are a number of reasons why he believes officers are leaving the department.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about the paid detail system and the Office of Police Secondary Employment. We have issues about the domicile ordinance. There are current issues regarding covering tattoos.”

In an interview with The Louisi­ana Weekly last year, New Orleans NAACP Branch president Danatus King said that a decimated police force has been made weaker by the NOPD’s detail system, which the Feds several years ago called the department’s “aorta of corruption.

King, an attorney, told The Louisiana Weekly that something has to give when a short-handed police force divides its time between their regular work shifts and more lucrative detail assignments.

“Something’s going to suffer, and it becomes a public-safety issue,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “Since you can’t be two places at the same time, either the person or entity hiring cops to provide security for an event are going to suffer or the public is going to be shortchanged by less police protection on the streets.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Wednesday that the city’s efforts to seize control of the NOPD detail policy may be the real source of both disgruntled officers and lower recruitment numbers.

“Trust me, cops who have been running this detail policy like their own cash cow are not happy about having the City of New Orleans control it,” Brown said. “That’s causing a lot of resentment among the ranks, especially among those at the top, and those who benefited from the detail policy no longer feel the need to steer potential recruits into that money circle where they can supplement their salaries with what some might consider ‘easy money.’”

Others, like police union spokespeople, have pointed to low officer morale in the wake of the high-profile post-Katrina murder cases involving NOPD officers and the federally mandated consent decree.

In a story that aired last fall on WWL-TV, it was reported that the already undermanned NOPD was losing an officer every other day to retirement and better-paying jobs.

At Wednesday’s criminal justice committee hearing, an uptown New Orleans man told the committee that he witnessed an attempted rape on March 14, scared off the perpetrator, called 911 and waited for the police with the intended victim. They waited for more than three hours and the cops never showed up.

“It does make me angry that our tax dollars are being paid for supposedly services like this, and we’re not getting anything in return,” the man told the committee.

“The blame for this severe NOPD manpower shortage and the department’s lackluster performance of late falls squarely on the shoulders of the Landrieu administration,” Rev. Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “Public safety is the responsibility of the mayor and his team, point blank.

“All of the time and energy the mayor and his team spent fighting the NOPD and OPP consent decrees could have been better spent finding creative ways to attract new recruits and discourage early departures from the ranks.”

“It’s important to remember that more needs to be changed in the NOPD than just the procedures and practices, the way they do things,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly Wednesday. “We need to see a change in the NOPD’s culture — officers’ attitudes and perceptions of the average citizen and the way they relate to the public.

“It’s not something that’s going to be changed overnight, but it’s something that needs to be given serious attention if the City of New Orleans is serious about turning this department around.”

This article originally published in the March 31, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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