On one-year anniversary, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison's biggest challenge is spiking murder rate _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison responds to an interview in his office in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.

The New Orleans Police Department initiated its third recruit class of the year Wednesday as Superintendent Michael Harrison said the city continues working “aggressively” to replenish the department’s depleted ranks.

Thirty-two fresh recruits started a 26-week training course at the NOPD’s temporary training facility at the University of New Orleans campus. Including another class of recruits still in training at the police academy, they bring the NOPD’s overall head count to 1,154.

“Make no mistake: We need more police officers, and we are working aggressively every single day to recruit, hire and train qualified candidates to join our ranks,” Harrison said as he welcomed the recruits.

Despite the new faces, however, the NOPD likely will miss its goal of hiring 150 officers this year. Department spokesman Tyler Gamble said the force probably will have hired roughly 130 new cops, including both recruits and reinstatements, by the end of the year.

The force is down significantly from the 1,730 officers the NOPD had before Hurricane Katrina and from the 1,525 officers it had in 2010 before budget woes brought hiring to a near halt for a few years.

Harrison said he anticipates bringing on another recruit class in December.

Last week, the NOPD began a new initiative to speed up recruiting: walk-in testing at the Civil Service Commission. The department said the walk-in written exams, which can be taken at the same time as civilians apply for jobs, could shave up to 60 days off the recruiting process.

The average processing time for officer candidates who end up being hired is 184 days, according to an August report by the NOPD’s consent decree monitors that questioned why the process is so drawn-out.

While praising the new class, Mayor Mitch Landrieu acknowledged residents’ frustration with police response times. Those numbers have skyrocketed from an average of 24 minutes in 2010 to one hour and 19 minutes so far this year, according to a New Orleans Advocate/WWL-TV analysis.

Landrieu said the department is implementing a series of initiatives designed to reduce current officers’ workload.

“We’re going to improve police response times because we have a beefed-up alternative police response unit, an updated false alarm ordinance, are building an online police reporting system, and we’re consolidating our 911 center,” he said.

Officials also praised the diversity of the new class, which includes 14 women — the most since 2010. Seventeen of the new recruits are white, 11 are black and four are Hispanic.

The NOPD’s decision in March to do away with a requirement for 60 hours of college credits seems to be having a modest but appreciable effect on hiring. Five of the 32 new recruits do not have the higher education or military experience that would have been required under the old rules, according to Gamble.