Stumping hard before voters on Saturday decide the fate of a proposed millage hike that would raise millions of dollars a year for New Orleans Police Department hiring, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Superintendent Michael Harrison on Tuesday boasted about crime-fighting successes and further steps planned to reduce bloated response times to residents’ calls for service.
Harrison cited a 43 percent reduction in average response times since last year for emergency calls, thanks in part to adding two platoons to cover shift changes.
A New Orleans Advocate/WWL-TV analysis last year found massive spikes in response times during those changeovers, contributing significantly to an overall tripling of NOPD response times over five years.
Response times to emergency calls now average about 11 minutes, Harrison said, down from more than 20 minutes in October, according to the Advocate/WWL analysis.
The goal, Harrison said, is to respond to those urgent calls within seven minutes 90 percent of the time.
To get there, the department has determined it needs 353 patrol officers on the streets responding to citizen calls, Harrison said.
After Mardi Gras, the department redeployed 54 officers to patrol duty. Since then, he said, another 15 officers have been moved to the streets, leaving the department 15 short of the 353-officer target.
The department believes it can hit the target number by the end of the month, spokesman Tyler Gamble said.
Department brass believe that, along with an online reporting system and a new false-alarm ordinance, they will then be able to hit their target average time for responding to emergency calls.
Harrison said a recruit class of 28 officers that graduated from the police academy in December will complete their field training on April 24. Another class of 29 is due to graduate April 29, with another class still in the academy and a fourth class slated to start May 2, he said.
The Police Department now has about 1,153 officers. Department brass hope to use the additional hiring to be made possible by the extra millage to hit a headcount of 1,600 sworn officers by 2020. The extra cops will be used to fill the depleted ranks of specialized units like the Special Victims Section, Homicide, the Multi-Agency Gang Unit and the Street Gang Unit.
“We’re making systematic reforms to the way we operate, all with the goal of putting more people on the street,” Harrison said. “We’ve demonstrated that we’re willing and able to put more cops on the street.”
Defeat of the millage Saturday “will be catastrophic,” Harrison said. “We will not be able to grow.”
Landrieu, saying that “too many times in our city, innocent victims have been caught in the crossfire,” recited a litany of high-profile violent crimes and resultant arrests or convictions stemming from NOPD legwork.
“We have all heard the public loudly and clearly,” he said. “We are creating higher police visibility so people not only feel safe — they are safe.”
The millage proposal would add 5 mills, bringing in about $17.7 million a year, for police, and 2.5 mills, worth about $8.9 million a year, to pay for a settlement with firefighters over back pay and pension issues.