Mountains of words are devoted to improving relations between the police and the community.
We can put it in a sentence: When someone is in trouble, the police should show up.
All too often, the New Orleans Police Department is well short of what anyone would call a quick response to a call for help.
Overall, a study by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV found that NOPD is taking about three times as long to respond to calls for service, compared to five years ago.
It’s not acceptable.
On average, New Orleans police needed 24 minutes to get to the scene of a crime in 2010, according to a review of 2.7 million calls for service. That compares with one hour and 19 minutes today. Even the most urgent calls, “Code 2” in the department, generate a 20-minute response — twice the rate recorded five years ago. In the department’s 8th District, which encompasses the French Quarter, the city’s marquee tourist attraction, the average police response now stands at 13 minutes and 16 seconds, a 71 percent increase since 2010.
In many cases, the delayed involvement of law enforcement hampers any follow-up investigation. It also may be skewing the city’s purported crime rate, because officers are increasingly arriving so late to calls that they are written off as “unfounded.” It’s a designation that officially means a crime did not happen, but in at least some cases, officers are getting to the scene after both the victim and perpetrator have taken off.
Amid the flurry of excuses and explanations, several stand out. One is that police, having apparently misclassified or otherwise buried cases in statistics, are now said to be wasting time on paperwork. Another excuse is that of the police union, ever-ready to blame management — City Hall — for failing to hire more union members, or rather police officers.
It’s obvious we need more boots on the ground. NOPD staffing has shrunk from 1,525 in 2010 to 1,154 now. The NOPD will likely miss its goal of hiring 150 officers this year.
We strongly support hiring more officers, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council have raised police pay and taken other steps for additional recruitment. The City Council also has cracked down on false commercial alarm calls, a serious distraction for officers.
But to say that properly coding one’s activity takes up so much time of officers, in the days of laptops and iPads, is a very lame excuse. City Hall and NOPD chiefs, not to mention the FBI’s crime statistics, rely on accurate reporting. The drive for accurate coding is vital to ensure that crimes are really addressed and not hidden, as they have all too often been in the past.
New Orleanians have been reassured by the mayor and other leaders that crime is down overall, although there are bound to be upticks from time to time; many cities across the country have seen a rise in murders this year, as has New Orleans, where murders had been significantly down in recent years.
And there are many cases of quick responses, as in the high-profile mass robbery at an Uptown bar recently, where the owners praised the NOPD for its response.
What is also clear, as The Advocate and WWL reported, is that slow response times hinder investigation and apprehension of muggers and thieves who will certainly strike again; for every time we’ve been told that crime is down, we wonder if the people taken advantage of on the street have a better grasp of reality.