Mayor Mitch Landrieu once again has asked Gov. Bobby Jindal to “more permanently assign a sizable contingent of Louisiana State Police to New Orleans.”
His request was made Friday, three days before nearly 40 state troopers are slated to leave the city after assisting a short-handed New Orleans Police Department with controlling Sugar Bowl and New Year’s celebrations.
Last summer, two shifts of 100 state troopers spent four months working in the city, starting in July, after a Bourbon Street shooting in late June killed one person and injured nine. A contingent of troopers returned in late November to assist with Bayou Classic crowds; others have continued to work on smaller task forces in the area.
“These troopers have proven to be a helpful supplement and a visible deterrent as the NOPD continues to rebuild,” Landrieu wrote. “However, when these resources have gone away, crime has spiked in these areas.”
Landrieu has requested previously that state troopers be stationed in the city on a long-term basis, only to be told that the State Police don’t have enough troopers to accommodate that request.
In his latest letter, Landrieu emphasized that the city is “an economic driver” for the state and is home to several state-owned facilities that draw tourists and to special events that require significant police presence. All told, he calculated, the events generate $409 million in state revenue from taxes on the Superdome, retail sales and hotel-motel guests.
“It is imperative that the State of Louisiana continue to provide immediate, additional resources to help protect our residents and visitors,” Landrieu wrote.
Jindal said in a written statement that his administration will make its decision based on the recommendation of Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent. He said it will send troopers “if he decides it is necessary, sustainable to the department, and does not detract from the important work the Louisiana State Police does in other parts of the state.”
The governor said he has already authorized additional troopers for New Orleans during Carnival and then concluded with a sentiment that seemed to indicate the state’s assistance has its limits. “We also encourage the mayor to produce a plan that puts the city and NOPD in charge,” Jindal wrote.
Real estate agent Karen Sepko, who organized Warehouse District Security, a neighborhood crime watch, places the entire police shortage at the feet of the Landrieu administration.
“Mitch has been putting off hiring police for years,” she said, adding that officer retention suffers from pay that isn’t competitive, even with the 5 percent raise that takes effect this month.
Other Landrieu critics say the hiring freeze the mayor put into effect in 2010 and did not lift for several years was a key factor in the department’s loss of hundreds of officers.
For Edmonson, the issue is manpower.
“I’ve got less troopers than they have police,” Edmonson said, comparing his statewide force — “of 950 including me” — with the NOPD, which totals roughly 1,100 sworn officers, according to NOPD spokesman Frank Robertson.
Edmonson said he has spoken with Landrieu and will be working closely with the administration in coming months. But the State Police simply can’t provide a large, sustained force to the city, he said.
“I can be part of the solution. But a permanent fix requires people, and that’s what we don’t have,” he said.
To send a large force of troopers to New Orleans over the summer, he had to leave other parts of the state short-handed, Edmonson said.
As a result, the mayor’s request won’t delay his troopers’ departure from the city Monday morning. “When we leave on Monday, we’re going home,” he said. “We’ll be back for Mardi Gras.”
“Keep in mind that I love the city of New Orleans. I go there all the time. I’ve had family there,” Edmonson said. “I want to do everything I can to make the city safe. That’s why I think it’s important that we continue this dialogue, to give these resources to the city of New Orleans so that they can be successful.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed Jan. 5 to correct part of a quotation from Col. Mike Edmonson, State Police superintendent. Edmonson said “I’ve had family there,” rather than “My family is there.”