New Orleans police have dramatically curbed their practice of deeming a high percentage of calls for service “unfounded” if officers could not find anyone at the scene when they arrived, no matter how many hours might have passed since the call. The change followed a policy shift ordered by Superintendent Michael Harrison, an analysis shows.
Officers who once marked many 911 calls as “unfounded” — which for the NOPD meant that they essentially never existed and required no follow-up action — have now switched to marking such incidents as “gone on arrival,” which should require at least some attempt by police supervisors to contact the initial caller.
Police across the city marked calls “unfounded” 138 times a day on average before late October, according to a review of department statistics by former city crime analyst Jeff Asher.
After an investigation by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV revealed that long response times were causing officers to report many serious crimes as unfounded, including an attack in the Marigny that left a tourist paralyzed, Harrison ordered a wholesale shift away from the use of the marking in late October.
Since then, officers marked 45 incidents in total as unfounded between Nov. 3 and Nov. 15.
As those “unfounded” designations have dropped, the use of “gone on arrival” has tripled.
Still unclear is whether all those calls back to 911 dialers will actually help police solve more crimes.
Capt. Mike Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, has derided the policy shift, saying it will simply drop another pointless task on supervisors’ plates. Glasser says that only an expanded force, which at present is down roughly 400 officers from 2010, can get to crime scenes sooner, thus catching more witnesses and victims to interview.
Police responding to aggravated battery and assault reports had marked 36 percent of those calls as “unfounded” through mid-August of this year, before Harrison’s directive, up from 27 percent of such calls in 2010.
Harrison has also pushed district commanders to move officers around to cover shift changes, when response times often spike dramatically.
Asher’s analysis also found that after response times peaked at an eye-popping citywide average of nearly six hours over the summer, they have since fallen to about three hours. Harrison has said he would like to get the average response time much lower, which will require the city to hire many more new cops.