The depleted ranks of the New Orleans Police Department may not be growing just yet, but they are at least no longer shrinking, Superintendent Michael Harrison told a City Council committee on Wednesday.
That’s a departure from the past few years, when the department saw midcareer officers walk out the door and wasn’t able to replace them.
“I think it’s actually better than stabilizing,” Harrison said.
The force stands now at 1,148 sworn officers, about the same as a year ago. That includes about 60 recruits who are still training at the department’s academy and are not yet on the streets.
Harrison said interest in joining the force appears to be on the rise. The department has received about 3,000 applications so far this year, more than the number who applied through all of last year, he said.
The chief attributed that trend to recent policy changes. The department, for instance, dropped a requirement that applicants must complete at least some college courses before they’re eligible to be hired.
At the same time, fewer officers are leaving the department in the middle of their careers, rather than at retirement age. Of those who did leave last year, 35 percent were midcareer officers, down from 50 percent in 2013, Harrison said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has set a goal of having nearly 1,600 officers on the force, though the Inspector General’s Office has argued that the NOPD should simply deploy the officers it has more effectively.
Without mentioning the IG’s conclusions, Harrison told council members that’s also an area the department has been attempting to address.
About 32 officers have been moved from desk jobs to those out in the field this year, Harrison said. A consultant who started work on Monday will be charged, in part, with identifying other changes the department can make to increase the number of officers who are available to respond to calls, rather than performing duties that could be handled by civilians.
The department also is working on a system that would allow people to make police reports by phone or online if there is no need for an officer to go to the scene, Harrison said.
Harrison’s report was greeted warmly by council members.
“This is about the most positive meeting with NOPD we’ve had,” said Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who chairs the council’s Criminal Justice Committee.
The department is still working to recruit bilingual officers and has a proposal before the Civil Service Commission that would pay a bonus for those who speak two languages, Harrison said. The NOPD also is looking to hire more bilingual administrative staff to handle job applicants who don’t speak English as their first language, he said.
Harrison did not have a simple answer for questions about the rising murder rate, particularly in light of a decline in other kinds of crime. He said the city has seen more killings related to domestic violence, personal disputes and armed robberies than in previous years, while gang-related violence has decreased.
Noting a similar uptick in murders in other parts of the country, Harrison said he is scheduled to meet with some of his counterparts from other cities to brainstorm solutions.
“It’s not just here; it’s happening in quite a few urban cities across the country,” he said. “We’re getting together to put our heads together to create strategies to deal with it.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.