NO.MassShootingHomicide_014.JPG

New Orleans Police Department investigators survey the scene of a sextuple shooting with one dead at Second and Dryades streets where bullet holes are visible in the wall of an apartment building in New Orleans, La. Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

The beleaguered homicide detectives of New Orleans could be getting a raise.

Police Superintendent Michael Harrison backed giving homicide detectives a 5 percent pay bump in a letter he sent to the city's Civil Service Commission on Tuesday.

If the raise is approved by commission members at a June 26 meeting, it could go into effect by the end of the month.

Harrison is also considering changes that could lead to a special promotion track for detectives and SWAT team members or an across-the-board pay raise at the department, according to two police union officials involved in negotiations with the NOPD leadership.

Those potential steps come as police officers grapple with a long-term increase in violent crime and a more recent spike in gun violence.

Through Thursday, there had been at least 81 homicides in New Orleans since the start of the year, about 20 percent above the figure last year. As of March, the Police Department had just 18 homicide detectives to handle the mounting caseload.

“These guys are being crushed under the weight of a double caseload. They do twice the national average rate of caseloads,” said Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans.

The pay raise would also occur as police brass deal with sagging morale inside the homicide unit. In April, The New Orleans Advocate reported that many detectives were being alienated by the domineering style of Lt. Jimmie Turner, who leads the homicide section.

With the NOPD brass in opposition, the Civil Service Commission has twice killed requests from the Police Association for raises for homicide detectives. But the department has now reversed course, according to the letter.

Glasser said he is optimistic the commission will approve the raise.

“The pay won’t make the (staffing) shortages smaller, and it won’t make homicides go down," Glasser said. "But it will encourage those that are still there, working and doing more with less. It will encourage them to stay there, and it will encourage other people to try and help."

At the same time, police brass are also considering changes in the department’s career paths that could reward officers for serving as detectives or SWAT officers.

Union officials say that the department’s pay scales encourage detectives to switch to positions such as district sergeants or lieutenants to earn more money, instead of honing their skills as investigators.

The last major round of pay raises at the Police Department came in 2015, when the city approved a 10 percent increase for all officers. That raise was intended to help address the manpower losses that have reduced the department's strength by hundreds of officers since 2010.

The separate pay raise path for detectives would have the backing of the Police Association, Glasser said. However, any such shift will be contingent on difficult discussions about how to raise the necessary money to pay detectives more, and how to avoid shortchanging sergeants and lieutenants.

“It’s doable, but it’s going to take a little more research to come up with suitable numbers,” Glasser said. “I think the philosophy of the plan is agreed upon. It’s just what are the hard numbers going to be, and how will we fund it.”

Donovan Livaccari, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said he discussed the ongoing classification and pay review in a meeting with Harrison last week.

“I think that they’re examining whatever possibilities may exist to keep officers on the job, as a means of addressing attrition,” Livaccari said. “We’re going to make sure to look at all the ins and outs of the various proposals, to make sure there’s not unanticipated problems.”

A spokesman for the Police Department said pay discussions are ongoing.

“NOPD is committed to retaining officers and strengthening our homicide unit, including the support of appropriate pay incentives," said Beau Tidwell, the spokesman. “Additionally, through the citywide class and compensation study, we are exploring avenues toward an alternative pay structure that fosters better advancement opportunities within the NOPD."

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432