NEW ORLEANS -- Mayor Mitch Landrieu unveiled his eighth and final budget Monday, and he painted a rosy picture. He said that during his tenure, the city has gone from a $97 million deficit and the brink of bankruptcy to a string of healthy surpluses and the city’s highest-ever credit rating.
No department has been a bigger beneficiary of the financial turnaround than the NOPD. The proposed 2018 budget puts the police budget over $150 million for the first time in history.
Landrieu said he crafted the funding blueprint after listening to more than 3,000 citizens during “telephone town hall meetings” when he crafted next year's city 2018 budget blueprint. And what he heard was: public safety first.
“Of course, public safety is our top priority,” Landrieu said during his budget speech to the City Council. “Since 2010, funding for NOPD is up by over $30 million.”
Landrieu reeled off a long list of improvements planned for the department, including 300 new police cars, new long guns for officers and technology purchases such as more crime cameras and license plate readers.
The overall NOPD budget is set to increase even more if, as expected, the Civil Service Commission approves an additional $9 million for across-the-board pay raises for existing officers.
As in previous budgets, the budget includes money to hire as many as 150 new police recruits. While that hiring pace has not been met over the past several years, the budget also includes six new civilian positions for the sex crimes unit. Those jobs are expected to be filled without any difficulty.
Even with the budget boost, one of the biggest problems facing the department continues to be a shortage of officers. Landrieu inherited about 1,500 officers when he took office in 2010, a number that has dwindled down to about 1,150 due to a hiring freeze he implemented to address the budget crisis.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said that even if recruitment comes in below expectations, the NOPD can grow the force by slowing attrition among veteran officers.
“This pay raise certainly helps,” Harrison said. “It helps us to retain a number of people who may have wanted to leave.”
Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Donovan Livaccari said his organization welcomes the pay increase, the third under Landrieu. But he said the biggest impact of proposed budget may not be an officer’s next paycheck, but how it sets the stage for the next mayor in dealing with the department.
“It certainly is important not only to set the tone for the upcoming year, but it also sets the tone for the upcoming administration,” Livaccari said. “We cannot emphasize enough the importance of public safety and I think the candidates for mayor understand that.”