New Orleans police moving 54 officers to streets this week to improve response times _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--NEw Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison talks to reporters about newly acquired police vehicles and the officer involved shooting Sunday on the top of the NOPD parking garage in New Orleans, La. Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.

The New Orleans Police Department is shifting 54 officers to neighborhood patrols this week in the first phase of a restructuring effort intended to reduce police response times throughout the city.

The redeployment plan, announced last month, will move officers to patrol duty from previous assignments in technology, fleet maintenance, administration, quality of life, community coordinating, night desk duty and public affairs.

Beginning Sunday, the 54 officers have been reassigned to patrol, the department said in a news release. The shift includes consolidating staff positions and reassigning district duties, reassigning Motorcycle Division officers to districts and reassigning the community coordinating and quality-of-life officers to patrol duties.

Loss of the quality-of-life, community coordinating and desk officer positions — all of which face the public in a way few other jobs in the department do — may prove to be the most controversial moves. Some of those officers attended public meetings and carried residents’ concerns back to district commanders, serving as a liaison between residents and police brass.

The move comes four months after The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV reported that average NOPD response times — the time it takes for an officer to get to the scene of a crime — have tripled since 2010 as the department’s manpower has steadily dwindled.

During a news conference Sunday, however, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said he had been working on a restructuring plan since taking office in 2014, based on an analysis of the department he asked a consultant to undertake last year.

“As you know, from the very beginning of my tenure as police chief, we’ve been working on increasing our staffing, increasing our visibility and putting more police officers on the street, and to better our police response time, which wasn’t very good,” Harrison said.

Another 28 NOPD recruits will complete field training and begin patrol duties on April 24, the department said.

The goal is to have 350 officers dedicated only to patrol and to get response times down to seven minutes about 90 percent of the time, throughout all eight police districts in the city.

Through Aug. 11 of last year, The Advocate and WWL-TV investigation found, police response time averaged nearly 80 minutes, up from 24 minutes in 2010.

In total, the aim is to put 94 additional officers on the streets, increasing the number of patrol officers by 40 percent. Many of those officers’ current jobs will instead be filled by newly hired civilians.

Those officers who have been doing desk jobs will undergo retraining, Harrison said.

Although Harrison said he hasn’t heard much pushback from the officers involved, he acknowledged the shake-up could be jarring for some.

“Change is not easy, and it’s not always very welcome,” he said. “I believe, by and large, the officers are understanding what we’re doing.”

In addition, 50 new patrol cars will be on the streets in coming weeks, Harrison said, increasing visibility and hopefully deterring would-be criminals.

The second phase of the restructuring effort, getting the full 94 additional officers on the streets, is expected to happen by the end of March, after civilian replacements are hired and in place.

“We are dedicated to public safety,” Harrison said. “We are fully committed to getting to citizens as fast as we can, every single time.”