NEW ORLEANS - The number of New Orleans police officers is at a 39 year low and on average, the department loses an officer every three days, according to statistics released by the New Orleans Police Department.
There are about 1,200 officers in the New Orleans Police Department. The city needs 1,575, said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
That's why recruitment is so important. The first academy class in three years is underway, with 25 recruits. But that’s still short of the 60 new hires across two academy classes that the city budgeted for this year.
“Their goal was 60 to 90 officers in 2013, but the city didn't fund a recruiting initiative,” said Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “That's like saying, ‘We want you to drive from New Orleans to Memphis, but we're not going to give you any gas.’”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed 2014 budget includes 150 more recruits, plus $300,000 to fund a recruiting campaign. But Goyeneche says, even if the money is there, the recruits may not be.
“150 is a goal. I'll be surprised if the police department realizes that.”
An average of one in 10 applicants who apply for the police academy meet the qualifications, said Sandy Shilstone, founding member of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.
That means 1,500 people would have to apply for the police academy in order for the NOPD to meet its goal.
Shilstone is part of a volunteer campaign to help NOPD find qualified new recruits.
Some potential hurdles to hiring new recruits including the requirement that NOPD officers to live in New Orleans, said Goyeneche. New requirements include two years of college or military experience, and no visible tattoos.
A federal consent decree, reforms on lucrative details, and low morale among some current officers are also challenges, said Raymond Burkhart, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police.
“You have these high standards combined with all these dis-incentives to join and you're going to have a problem, they're not going to fill five classes,” said Burkhart.
Even if the NOPD can fill five classes, that just begins to solve the manpower problem.
“This problem that we see right now with the shortage of police manpower has been years in the making. You're not going to fix it with one recruiting drive,” said Goyeneche. “It's probably going to take us the better part of seven to eight years to build the police department to the numbers that are necessary to police the city.”
Right now, NOPD recruiters are going to job fairs, posting on job sites, recruiting at colleges, and actively working to hire new officers.
There are ads on bus shelters, and the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation is working to fund and create television and print ads.
"Our aim is to hire and offer the best training to those most capable of assisting and protecting the people of New Orleans," said spokesperson Remi Braden. “Chief Serpas recognizes the need to get as many well-trained recruits on the streets as soon as possible, so any potential road block- like the domicile rule- should be removed.”
The City Council is set to vote on a one-year delay for the domicile rule next week.
As of last month, the NOPD hired five new recruits and was doing background checks on 18 others as they gear up to begin a second academy class.
Shilstone says over 1,500 have downloaded applications on their recruitment website, http://www.joinnopd.org. There is no word on how many of those people actually applied.