Along with the traditional colors of Carnival, State Police blue has emerged as a sought-after commodity in New Orleans among business owners and city leaders responding to renewed concerns over violent crime.
So much so, in fact, that the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau has guaranteed $2.5 million in overtime costs to keep a sizable deployment of troopers in the city through at least mid-May.
But not everyone has embraced the blue-uniformed troopers with equal enthusiasm. Some police officers see their prolonged presence in the city as a short-sighted solution to the Police Department’s staffing woes.
And in a new wrinkle this week, New Orleans’ largest police officer groups are calling into question the wisdom of troopers patrolling the French Quarter, suggesting they would be better used responding to traffic accidents.
“The placing of the State Police in the Quarter is like using painkillers to mask the discomfort of a terminal disease,” said Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans. “It will feel good for a while, but unchecked, the disease will be fatal.”
Glasser, in a lengthy statement to The New Orleans Advocate, said rank and file police officers are more familiar with the intricacies of the French Quarter and its crime patterns. Officers assigned to the 8th District, which includes the Quarter, “do a remarkable job with the resources they have — they just need more,” he said.
Where the Police Department could use the most help, Glasser said, is in the investigation of crashes, especially those on Interstate 10 that tie up officers for hours as they block off traffic, collect evidence and interview injured people at the hospital. With so few officers on duty at any given time, a major crash can consume “all of a district’s resources,” Glasser said, “leaving no one to police the district.”
Donovan Livaccari, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, made similar comments Wednesday, saying New Orleans would benefit most from having State Police apply their expertise on the city’s roadways. State Police “perform this function throughout the state,” he said.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, stood by his deployment plan, which calls for troopers to patrol the French Quarter and other neighborhoods, as well as serving outstanding felony warrants. About 150 troopers will deploy to the city for Mardi Gras, and several dozen are expected to stay through late spring.
In an interview Wednesday, Edmonson said Glasser should consider “the success we’ve had in the city for over 35 years.”
“I’m asking him to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Edmonson said. “We’re there because the city has asked us to be there.”
Edmonson added that troopers are fully trained in police work, not just traffic investigations. “Are we experts in traffic? Absolutely,” he said. “But we’re also experts at being police officers, and we’re experts at being partners.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has welcomed the State Police unreservedly, beseeching the agency to establish a more permanent presence. He counted on State Police to help restore calm after the notorious Bourbon Street shooting spree last summer, when scores of troopers were stationed in the city for four months.
At the same time, the mayor has said repeatedly that expanding the ranks of the NOPD is a top priority. His 2015 budget includes money for several new recruit classes and the first across-the-board raise for Police Department members since 2007.
But Landrieu’s pleas for outside help have rankled some within the NOPD, who say not enough emphasis has been placed on restoring the department’s ranks to a more sustainable level of staffing. The manpower shortage has been attributed to a citywide hiring freeze during Landrieu’s first term, a measure intended to stanch New Orleans’ financial hemorrhaging.
“We need to focus on hiring more officers than we will lose,” Livaccari said. “We need to let the NOPD do what it does best — police the city of New Orleans.”
In his statement, Glasser also noted that State Police assigned to the French Quarter are not subject to the stringent federal oversight that New Orleans police officers face under the city’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. He said the troopers also do not wear body cameras on their uniforms, devices the NOPD has rolled out in an effort to boost officer accountability and public trust.
“The greatest number of police-citizen contacts occur in the Quarter and under circumstances which often result in arrest or summons,” Glasser said. “The State Police would have none of the restrictions, oversight and review that was deemed so important with the NOPD.”
Edmonson pointed to his agency’s record, saying State Police are not subject to federal oversight in part because troopers receive thorough law enforcement instruction and frequent retraining. “We train our people on a regular basis,” he said, “to ensure they do what police are supposed to do.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.