A new report on the New Orleans Police Department shows that a recent uptick in violent crime has come amid a dramatic decrease in the number of arrests. And both trends seem to be fueled by depleted troop strength.
The study by the Metropolitan Crime Commission shows that violent crime increased by 27 percent from 2013 to 2015, based on Uniform Crime Reports that the NOPD submitted to the FBI.
During an overlapping period from 2013 to 2016, overall arrests dropped 44 percent, although arrests for violent crime only decreased by 16 percent.
Major factors in the decrease in arrests has been a steep decline in traffic and narcotics enforcement. Several years ago, the NOPD was forced to disband its district narcotics units due to a shortage of officers. Traffic was cut to the bare enforcement essentials.
“Traffic and drug enforcement have gone off a cliff. There's virtually none,” said MCC President Rafael Goyeneche. “When you don’t have proactive policing, you don’t have officers engaging with some of the offenders until they commit violent crimes.”
The MCC report shows that since 2013, felony arrests by the NOPD have dropped by 16 percent. Within that category, felony narcotics arrests have dropped by 55 percent.
Goyeneche said there were some bright spots in the NOPD’s performance. Arrests for violent felonies bucked the trend and showed a significant increase, 44 percent. And the percent of cases accepted by the district attorney’s office increased from 73 percent in 2013 to 81 percent in 2015, reflecting a higher quality of cases.
“This problem is not because police officers are sitting in donut shops or not working, it’s that there’s not enough of them,” Goyeneche said.
This steep decline in felony narcotics arrests is directly tied to the NOPD manpower shortage, Goyeneche said. The department stands at 1,159 officers, down from 1,540 officers in 2010.
The decline was initially brought on by a hiring freeze imposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to address a budget crisis. Even with a recent recruiting push to boost the numbers, the department has remained depleted due to attrition and a national shortage of qualified applicants seeking to join law enforcement.
“The problem comes when you're 500 officers short, these are the areas that you start to suffer in, such as proactive policing,” said Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans. “Unless the staffing improves dramatically, and it hasn't, and it won't, we have a problem.”
Glasser and others are anticipating that low troop strength will remain a persistent problem. Current NOPD recruiting numbers support
The NOPD set a goal of hiring 150 officers for the past two years and budgeted accordingly. But not only did the department fall short both years, the number of officers leaving the department almost matched the new hires, leaving the NOPD stagnant.
Recruiting prospects for 2017 don’t appear much better. No new academy classes have been launched in 2017, and the only group currently in classroom training are nine recruits who were hired on Dec. 30.
The department said a new class of about 28 officers is expected to start on June 5, but that will do little to boost the numbers without a dramatic hiring surge.
Donovan Livaccari, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said something dramatic may be needed if the NOPD wants to avoid a “crisis.” Along with Glasser, he is advocating a pay raise for existing officers, stretched out over several years to boost retention as well as recruiting.
“It's absolutely the core problem,” Livaccari said. “The number of officers that we have impacts every aspect of the police department, from moral to enforcement. It’s absolutely true that a police department’s best recruiting tool is the word-of-mouth from existing officers and, right now, that’s not working in our favor.”