NEW ORLEANS -- Police officers will receive 10 percent pay raises under a plan Mayor Mitch Landrieu has proposed to stop a manpower hemorrhage in the department which has hindered efforts to rebuild its sorely depleted ranks.
“This will go a very long way in convincing the officers we have with us to stay with us,” Landrieu said in announcing the plan.
In addition to pay raises, the plan also calls for creating a new career path for officers who want to become detectives and doing away with what Police Superintendent Michael Harrison described as “duplicative” job descriptions.
“We believe this new pay plan in the best way forward to compensate our hardworking men and women … and attract and retain the kind of experienced, accomplished police officers we want protecting the city of New Orleans,” Harrison said.
Landrieu, who said the city has spent $2.25 billion on public safety during his time in office, said the plan would cost between $9 million and $10 million.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, chairwoman of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, said citizens would not be asked to pay anything more than they are now. “This is not going to be the matter of a new tax.”
The added expense would be covered by the sale of city assets such as the Public Belt Railroad and from revenue associated with the lease of the World Trade Center. “That was preferable to asking people to pay more taxes, because that’s not an appetite for that right now.”
Right now, recruits in the academy are paid the equivalent of $40,391. Officers with less than a year of experience make about $45,000. That salary increases to about $51,000 after 12 months, including time at the academy.
Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, said in a statement that he is encouraged by the plan, which the administration worked to develop alongside the union.
“This plan is much more than a simple pay raise for police,” Glasser said. “It is an aggressive and innovative change in career philosophy that will significantly diminish attrition, improve morale, and encourage recruitment to the benefit of public safety citywide.”
The plan includes a new “career path” pay plan for detectives to increase their salaries based on longevity and, hopefully, retain their specialized training and veteran experience, Glasser said. As with the rest of the department, attrition has decimated the ranks of homicide detectives, leading to a five percent pay raise for the unit last month to try and attract new officers.
While the department has generally been able to fill its individual recruit classes, the city has not been able to achieve its goals of hiring 150 recruits a year, even though the money has been budgeted for that number.
Keeping officers has been a nagging issue, leading to small net gains each year, if not net losses, despite new cops hitting the streets. For example, the NOPD hired 114 recruits last year, but lost 109 veteran officers, a net gain of five officers.
Asked about the hiring freeze he enacted when he first took office, a frustrated Landrieu noted it lasted 18 months and said the NOPD has been hiring since then. He said that freeze was necessary since the city was on verge of bankruptcy. “And the police department was, in fact, bankrupt.”
Problems with attracting officers, he said, aren’t unique to New Orleans, with most major cities facing difficulties attracting applicants who want to join law enforcement..
“We need people to want to be police officers. That is the big, singular issue across the country right now,” he said. “Not that we stopped hiring for 18 months.”
Among the changes Landrieu has proposed are doing away with the ranks of police officer II, III and IV, instead consolidating them and giving them a new rank of senior police office with one salary. A new rank above that would be master police officer, which would earn 10 percent more than a senior police office.
The Civil Service Commission and City Council must approve the plan before it can take effect.
The changes come at a time when the city is trying to tamp down a surge in gun violence. Landrieu said he, too, is frustrated by the stubborn crime problem.
“No one is happy with where we are. Not me, not the council members, not the citizens and not the men and women that protect and serve us,” he said. “People are concerned and I understand their impatience. Crime is up in the city and it’s unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Harrison said, new equipment is headed to officers, with 300 new take-home cars being given to officers who live in Orleans Parish and 300 long rifles for use in any possible active-shooter situation.
“We have now, I think, given to the men and women of the NOPD almost everything they have asked (for),” Landrieu said, leading him to once again pitch the job of New Orleans police officer to the public.
“We don’t have mandatory draft, which means I can’t make people be police officers. … We’re hiring right now,” he said. “If you want to do something other than complain, you can really joined the police department and make a meaningful difference.”