The number of New Orleans Police Department officers on patrol will jump by more than 40 percent after Mardi Gras under a major restructuring announced Wednesday that will move 94 cops from desks and district stations to the streets.
NOPD leaders hope to bring skyrocketing response times back under control, getting officers onto the scene within a few minutes for nearly all high-priority crimes.
There’s much work to do to reach a goal that even department officials admit is ambitious in the face of a manpower crisis that has seen the time it takes for an officer to arrive on a crime scene triple in less than five years, according to an investigation by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV in October.
The reshuffling also reflects criticism by the city Inspector General’s Office in 2014 that the NOPD could solve some of its staffing issues by reassigning officers rather than simply attempting to expand the force.
Superintendent Michael Harrison presented the shift Wednesday as a carefully researched effort to use the department’s depleted manpower more efficiently, in part by consolidating some positions and reassigning officers from police headquarters and the department’s motorcycle unit to patrol assignments in the city’s eight police districts.
“This is an opportunity for us to restore the public’s confidence in our department and get back to the basics of policing,” Harrison said at a news conference. “You call us for help, we’re coming.”
The plan calls for using civilian employees, who are seen as easier to recruit and do not require the lengthy and expensive training of commissioned cops, to fill some administrative positions that traditionally have been handled by uniformed officers, including jobs in each police district such as mechanics.
Those officers will be added to the 225 already on patrol, putting more cops in units that respond directly to calls from residents.
The restructuring also calls for a “reinvention” of the department’s quality-of-life program, a move that will move officers dedicated to that assignment to patrol and more heavily involve average cops in community policing.
For the first time, Harrison said, the department also will hire officers on a part-time basis to work up to 24 hours a week answering calls for service. The department is seeking to rehire commissioned officers who left the force in good standing.
“This surge in neighborhood patrols will significantly increase police presence on our streets, helping to prevent crime from happening and then helping to quickly help arrest individuals who choose to commit crime,” Harrison said. “There’s no doubt this is a major shift for the department, and I can tell you that this decision was not made overnight.”
The restructuring stems from a staffing analysis commissioned by the department last year.
The NOPD hopes the effort will ensure that 90 percent of high-priority calls — reporting incidents such as violent crimes and robberies — result in a cop on the scene within seven minutes. In the last quarter of 2015, the department met that goal only about 34 percent of the time, and cops took more than 20 minutes to arrive in about 21 percent of those cases.
“It’s certainly aggressive; it’s certainly ambitious,” NOPD Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Wisbey said. However, he noted that the reassignments will dramatically increase the size of the patrol division.
“This is going to dramatically improve response times,” he added.
The reassignments are part of a multipronged approach the department is taking as it tries to reduce response times. Other measures include an ordinance introducing penalties for false burglar alarms, which delay officers who could otherwise respond to actual crimes, and the introduction of programs to let desk officers and eventually civilians take police reports over the phone.
Shuffling the duties of existing officers will be enough to bring the number of patrol officers up to 319, the level recommended by Berkshire Advisors, a consultant brought in by the NOPD to examine its staffing.
However, the department will continue with efforts to add another 440 officers to the current force of 1,163, bringing its total to about 1,600 by 2020.
During his re-election bid in 2014, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he hoped the department would reach that goal by 2018, but the past few years have seen the force grow by only a few dozen.
The new cops are expected to be assigned to specialized units such as homicide, the gang task force and the special victims and child abuse divisions, rather than put on patrol, but the plan remains in flux, NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said.
Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux noted Wednesday that while the department initially balked at his office’s recommendations, it has since adopted most of them — including the restructuring, the false alarm ordinance and moves to increase the civilian workforce.
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