It was misty and wet Monday morning as the New Orleans Police Department’s 29 newest recruits dropped to the concrete and labored through pushups and squats.
Just minutes before, they had been all smiles as they were feted by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Superintendent Michael Harrison and a raft of white-shirted ranking officers. The mayor and the chief shook each recruit’s hand, and rhapsodized about how each one would remember this day for the rest of their lives.
Then, it was back to reality.
“I shook the mayor’s hand 21 years ago,” a trainer in dark sunglasses hollered, “and it’s been all downhill from there.”
Class 172 — with recruits from as far away as California and Massachusetts — began 26 weeks of training Monday as the NOPD struggles to fill its dwindling ranks. As of June 2014, NOPD had 1,141 officers, a 36-year-low, down from 1,546 in 2009 and 1,730 in 2005.
Last week NOPD told WWLTV that only 300 of the department’s officers were primarily assigned to responding to calls for service. Department brass said more officers are being shifted to handle such calls.
After standing at attention and listening to the speeches, the recruits — clad in blue fatigues without insignias — huddled around Harrison and Landrieu.
“You know you’re stepping into a city that’s rebuilding itself after one of the most catastrophic events that was seen in this nation’s history,” Landrieu said. “You know that we’re climbing a steep mountain, but you come anyway. And that is the heart and the mind and the spirit that I want you to approach the job, and I want you to know this, the city of New Orleans supports you.”
The city has budgeted for 150 new recruits, and Superintendent Harrison said the city has invested in more technology to support its officers on the street. The department now has 520 body cameras and 400 new patrol cars.
Landrieu added that he appreciated the recruits’ willingness to sign up in a time when police around the country have faced tough questions about their tactics in the wake of controversial deaths at the hands of cops in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.
“It is a tough time but absolutely true that we can police well and with care,” Landrieu said.
This is the first class of 2015, and the fifth since 2010. There are 26 men and three women.
WWLTV reported Monday that Superintendent Harrison had asked the Civil Service Commission in December to remove a statute requiring new recruits to have at least 60 hours of college credits or military experience.
This class includes 12 individuals with military experience, and its median age is 30 according to police spokesman, Tyler Gamble.
When the pomp and compliments ended, the trainers and trainees went back to work. The recruits, who came in all shapes and sizes, had already been worked hard. They showed signs of fatigue, sweat dripping from their faces. One recruit struggled through pushups and finally gave up, shuffling over to the police medical officer.
One of the trainers mocked him for giving up so soon.
“All he wants is a desk job in the 1st District where he can eat doughnuts all day and watch TV,” he yelled.