Mayoral candidate Desiree Charbonnet released a crime plan Monday promising she would add between 80 and 100 new officers a year to the New Orleans Police Department, create rapid-response units to deal with crimes in progress and undertake a national search for a police chief.
But alongside those proposals and largely noncontroversial ideas such as expanding intervention and mentoring efforts, Charbonnet’s plan calls for cutting payments to the monitors tracking whether the NOPD is adhering to its federal consent decree, revamping one of the main offices responsible for stemming corruption in the department, and diverting money from housing and economic development funds to help pay for the anti-crime efforts.
In what appears to be a reference to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s recent spats with state officials such as Attorney General Jeff Landry, the plan also says a Charbonnet administration “will leave no offer of help unaccepted, no partnership underutilized, and will explore cooperative agreements wherever they will increase the efficiency of our use of resources while minimizing costs.”
The proposal was released Monday, about a day before one of Charbonnet’s main opponents, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, was set to give a speech outlining her full platform for the fall election.
Charbonnet’s campaign did not make the candidate available to discuss the plan Monday.
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The proposal calls for adding 80 to 100 new officers to the department's strength each year, with a goal of hitting 1,500 officers, more than 300 above its current level.
That would be an unprecedented expansion for the department, and one which some experts believe goes far beyond realistic expectations.
The NOPD has at best been treading water in recent years, with new recruits barely keeping pace with departures despite aggressive recruitment efforts by the Landrieu administration.
Charbonnet, a former Municipal Court judge, offered few details on how that recruitment effort would be carried out, though the plan suggests luring back officers who retired or left the department for other reasons and targeting people with military experience.
In terms of retaining current officers, the plan says “retention is not just about pay (though that’s part of the story),” an apparent reference to Landrieu’s recently announced plan to boost salaries to help keep officers on the force.
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Charbonnet called for using various housing incentives to attract and retain officers.
More controversially, she called for “revamping and reforming" the Office of Police Secondary Employment, which was established under the federal consent decree to stamp out corruption in private details worked by officers. Those details were referred to as the NOPD’s “aorta of corruption” by the Department of Justice.
Charbonnet did not specify what changes she wants, but it’s unclear whether U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who oversees the consent decree, and other officials would sign off on changes to a major pillar of the agreement.
Another item on Charbonnet's agenda is a national search for a new police chief, with input from the department and the community, suggesting that Superintendent Michael Harrison's days would be numbered under her administration.
Charbonnet also pledges to reduce response times for crimes in progress to under five minutes, about half the average time the department needed to get an officer to a crime scene in its best month over the last year. That goal would be aided by use of two-person rapid-response units.
Civilian employees would be used to investigate traffic accidents and free up officers to handle crimes, a proposal the Landrieu administration has been pursuing for two years but which has been blocked by state lawmakers.
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Charbonnet also calls for increased use of technology, including license plate readers, crime cameras and equipment that can detect gunfire and direct officers to the source. In addition, her plan calls for tracking NOPD vehicles and issuing officers cellphones whose GPS can be monitored to determine their location.
The proposal calls for better community policing and cites as an example the private patrols set up in the French Quarter by businessman Sidney Torres, who flirted with an entry into the mayor’s race for months before bowing out last week.
Charbonnet also proposes efforts targeting at-risk youth and ex-offenders, including mentorship programs, after-school and summer job programs and better cooperation with nonprofits, faith-based organizations and neighborhood and business groups.
“The most expensive way, both in dollars and (more importantly) human costs, to address their behavior is after they’ve committed a crime,” she said. “We need to engage them early and provide attractive alternatives — that’s what it means to get to the root causes of crime and prevent it before it starts.”
The plan does not include a total price tag, but Charbonnet pledged it would be carried out without raising taxes.
She said she would favor rededicating two existing millages, one for economic improvement and one for affordable housing, to police, providing about $10.25 million a year.
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The housing program, known as the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund, has been a major focus of Cantrell’s work during her time on the council and, bolstered by revenue from a fee imposed on short-term rentals, makes up about a third of the $17.5 million the city spends on housing programs and rehabilitation each year.
The plan also calls for reducing payments to the monitors overseeing the consent decree. Before starting that work in 2013, the Sheppard, Mullin law firm agreed to cap its costs at $8.9 million spread out over four years.
“To be direct, the monitor costs too much money, and the functions can and should be done for less,” Charbonnet's plan says.
Other funding would come from tracking down businesses that are not paying sales taxes and dedicating percentages of new revenue to public safety.
Staff writer Matt Sledge contributed to this report.