NEW ORLEANS - Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas on Wednesday presented to the New Orleans City Council his budget for 2014. Included in the $135 million budget is the purchase of equipment such as so called "body cameras" to be worn by all officers.
There’s also the purchase of new police vehicles. It's the first time since 2009 the NOPD has been able to buy new fleet vehicles. City Council Vice President Stacy Head told Serpas several officers complained to her about the state of their police equipment.
"When I say equipment, it's the cars. They have old, fallen down cars," Head said.
Serpas told the council the new fleet vehicles will be an upgrade.
"By the end of the year, every officer who answers a call for service in your neighborhoods will be in a new Ford Explorer equipped with the latest technology that comes along with it," said Serpas.
The new vehicles are part of incentives Serpas will have to settle for. The issue of pay raises for the department's officers was discussed but the chief and most council members conceded that it likely remains a hypothetical. Council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell broached the idea of providing 30 percent pay raises to officers that ranked below captain.
"It would be a 30 percent raise over three years, 10 percent each year," she said. "Our officers do a job that can't be duplicated anywhere in the United States and they need to be paid for it," said Hedge-Morrell.
Chief Serpas offered no argument against that, but he said the current budget constraints don't allow for pay raises. According to city estimates, giving officers under the rank of captain a 30 percent pay raise would cost roughly $8 million the first year and eventually rise to about $24 million by the third year. Instead, Serpas said incentives will have to come in other forms.
"Of course we'd want our police officers to make more money and we're doing what we can with the system, that includes new buildings, new cars and promotions," said Serpas.
Any incentive would be welcomed. The force is struggling to recruit and retain officers. Council members have voiced concerns that the shortage in manpower could put officers in danger when they answer dangerous service calls.
Council President Jackie Clarkson said recruitment efforts would be improved with the lifting of the long standing "domicile law," which requires police and other first responders working in Orleans Parish to also live in New Orleans. The residency requirement has been the subject of many contentious discussions and meetings between the council and police advocates. While all agree more officers are needed on the street, there's little agreement on how to get that accomplished without new streams of money.