NEW ORLEANS -- In his annual budget presentation Monday, New Orleans Mayor Landrieu gave an upbeat assessment of the NOPD. Morale is up, attrition is down, he said. More cars and state-of-art equipment is on the way.
And Landrieu highlighted an upcoming pay raise as a key to growing the still-undermanned force.
“The bottom line is, now the whole department is better paid, is better trained, is better managed and far better equipped,” Landrieu said in his speech.
So how have these improvements affected about overall troop strength, one of the most pressing challenges Landrieu has faced as mayor?
Landrieu inherited about 1,500 officers when he took office in 2010, a number that has dwindled down to about 1,160 due to a hiring freeze he implemented to address a budget crisis he inherited from the previous administration.
Bringing the numbers back up has been a struggle since the administration tried to ramp up hiring four years ago. So far this year, the statistics show a mixed picture.
In 2017, attrition is down, with only 41 departures through July. That projects to 71 fewer cops for the year. That compares to 109 officers who left in 2016.
While the lower attrition rate is promising, the NOPD still faces serious challenges on the hiring side of the equation.
The NOPD has launched only one academy class this year. Twenty-eight recruits began training in June, and a second academy class isn’t expected until the fall.
The 2017 budget included money to hire as many as 150 new police recruits. But that hiring pace has not been met over the past several years. In 2016, a year in which the city pulled out all the stops in police recruiting, the department added only 114 new officers.
WWL-TV criminal justice analyst Jeff Asher says the NOPD's 2017 hiring pace is not only behind past years, but recruiting officers has become a challenge nationwide.
“The bottom line is that in America in 2017, it is hard to grow law enforcement agencies,” Asher said.
Despite the uphill climb, there's a factor working in favor of the NOPD. A recent survey by federal consent decree monitors shows that morale in the ranks is up.
The monitors’ report, issued on July 24, is based on survey responses from 281 officers. Among the findings were that “attitudes regarding the work environment at the NOPD were positive,” and “officers believe their supervisors are good leaders.”
Experts say that strong morale, and the positive word-of-mouth that goes with it, can be a department's best recruiting tool.
“It generally paints a positive picture about how NOPD officers feel about their force right now,” Asher said. “That hasn’t always been the case, so anytime we can say that about the NOPD it’s a positive thing.”