Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, seeking to allay the city’s frayed nerves after a rash of high-profile robberies and assaults, announced Wednesday that the New Orleans Police Department has doubled the size of a newly formed special task force to patrol “target locations across the city” after dark — so-called hot spots in which the authorities have detected increases in violent crime.
Addressing reporters a day after placard-toting protesters gathered in Jackson Square to demand an additional police presence around the city, Harrison said the NOPD is trying to squeeze the most out of its limited resources by reassigning officers from administrative duties to street patrols.
The new task force, which has no special name, previously consisted of eight officers but now will have at least 16.
The officers, who will come from various districts and police headquarters, will be deployed between 6:25 p.m. and 3 a.m. every day for the foreseeable future, Harrison said. The officers will rotate between the task force and their normal assignments, which Harrison described as “still very important.”
“We’re not losing anything because we’re doubling the overtime” available to each district, he said. “Now the commanders can backfill positions in the districts using overtime. We’re actually gaining, instead of losing.”
As Mardi Gras approaches, city leaders have come under mounting pressure to respond to a series of shootings and beatings that have cast fresh attention on the city’s chronic crime woes. Harrison said the special task force has been increasingly successful since Christmas in making weapons arrests and apprehending other criminals. He said the department hopes to “double down” on that momentum.
“The additional uniform police officer presence instantly increases our visibility in these areas,” Harrison said. “On top of that, these officers are on proactive patrol. That means rather than responding to calls for service, they are proactively patrolling to prevent violent crime from happening.”
Harrison also has sought to boost morale within the department.
On Tuesday, Capt. Mike Glasser, head of the Police Association of New Orleans, wrote an “open letter” to Mayor Mitch Landrieu in which he accused Landrieu of turning his back on the rank and file and failing to retain veteran officers who became disillusioned and left the Police Department.
Among Glasser’s sweeping criticisms was the accusation that the mayor killed a progressive pay package for officers and replaced it with “a nominal and perfunctory raise, knowing full well it would be offset by rising health care costs.”
Harrison said Wednesday he has asked officers to “follow our lead” and disregard “the naysayers and the critiques” as the department seeks to improve public safety.
“All of us are committed to working every day to ensure that every neighborhood in New Orleans is a safe neighborhood,” he said.
Glasser, in his letter, faulted Landrieu for “always looking outside, never inside” the NOPD, a reference to the mayor’s pleas for more Louisiana State Police troopers and also to the city’s plans for NOLA Patrol, an unarmed civilian force that will be entrusted with traffic control and other non-emergency duties in the French Quarter.
Harrison said Wednesday that training for those citizens is expected to begin “very soon,” as candidates for the positions already are being interviewed.
As the Police Department desperately seeks to hire hundreds of new police officers, making up for attrition and a hiring freeze that plunged the ranks to a 37-year low, the superintendent also noted that 29 new recruits are expected to graduate from the police academy in March. He said another recruit class is set to start on Monday.
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