Time for a flourish of trumpets. The New Orleans Police Department reports that more officers were recruited than lost in 2015.
Pay is up 15 percent, cars and equipment have been replaced and the department budget just got a $10.5 million boost.
Why, we’ll soon be sauntering through the streets whistling a merry tune at any time of the day or night. The hairy days will be just a memory.
Wait a minute. The numbers say it would be unwise to let our guard down yet, however cock-a-hoop New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Chief Michael Harrison might sound. They say that last year, NOPD recruited 136 and lost 105 officers to put the total force at 1,163.
Since the official line has long been that the department needs 1,600 officers to function adequately, citizens may be forgiven if they are less than totally reassured.
The recruitment numbers, in any case, if not quite bogus, are certainly premature. The 136 includes 29 who passed out of the police academy late last year but must still complete 16 weeks of supervised field training. Also included are 32 who enrolled in the next class, which did not even commence instruction until Dec. 30. It would be unusual if some of them did not drop out.
Landrieu keeps saying that public safety is his top priority so he’ll find any excuse he can to look on the bright side of law enforcement.
There is indeed some reason for optimism. French Quarter voters have approved a sales tax hike to keep state troopers on patrol there, while a millage on the ballot a couple of months hence would give NOPD millions more to play with.
The city is not so fussy as it used to be, moreover, having scrapped requirements that recruits live there and have 60 hours of college credit. Whatever doubts that might raise about the smarts and dedication of the new generation of cops, NOPD will pay more than most departments in the state; after a year on the job, officers will earn more than $50,000.
Landrieu hopes to pick up the recruitment pace — he is aiming for 150 this year — but experience suggests that, though there is no shortage of applicants, most will fail to meet even the reduced requirements. Even according to NOPD’s most sanguine projections, moreover, it will take until 2020 to achieve the magic number of 1,600. The criminals will have plenty of time to make hay.
If brighter times are ahead, it still requires some nerve for hizzoner to take credit for the anticipated solution of a problem that he always knew was coming. After taking office in 2010, he slashed the NOPD budget and imposed a hiring freeze over the objections of then-Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who warned that the force would dwindle to a dangerous level. The freeze remained in effect for three years, bringing the NOPD to a 40-year staffing low. You wouldn’t have guessed back then that public safety was Landrieu’s top priority.
Perhaps he did not have much choice when first taking office, for he inherited a city on the verge of bankruptcy. New Orleans probably suffered less from the corruption of the Ray Nagin administration than from its incompetence. But, as response times rose dramatically, and calls for emergency medical services often went unanswered, City Hall had no response to the crisis.
Now that it does, Harrison further eases the manpower shortage by hiring civilians so that officers can be moved from behind desks to patrols. He also plans to hire retired cops part-time.
Still, even accepting the official staffing number of 1,163, New Orleans has lost some 300 cops since Landrieu took office. A fanfare isn’t called for yet.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.