NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Police Department does not have enough street cops to respond to calls from citizens, but not because of a lack of officers, according to a study already generating controversy within the department.
A report by the New Orleans Inspector General states that the department is unable to keep up with emergency calls primarily because of poor deployment.
The 102-page report issued Wednesday blasts the NOPD for being top-heavy with supervisors and assigning too many officers to positions other than front-line patrols.
The report states that the NOPD for deploys only about 250 of its 1,000 available field officers to district platoons, leaving the force short-handed in answering calls for service.
“NOPD does not have a sufficient number of officers assigned to answer calls for service,” states Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux in the report. “But we have officers assigned to non-law enforcement duties who could do this function.”
Quatrevaux states in the report that the department should concentrate on proper deployment of officers before it spends money on mass hiring of new officers.
The report goes against the widespread belief that the NOPD is short-staffed, a view that has fueled a morale crisis among NOPD officers due to constant attrition that has a modern-era low of fewer than 1,200 officers.
“We should be exploring all possible options before we increase the troop strength of NOPD by 300 officers,” Quatrevaux states.
The report was released one day after Mayor Mitch Landrieu helped launch the NOPD’s first recruit class of 2014, with 32 recruits beginning a nine-month training regimen that will put them on the street at the beginning of 2015.
The report, based on data from 2013, shows that response time to calls from citizens classified as Code 1 – the lowest priority – ranged from nearly an hour in the 7th Police District in eastern New Orleans to about 27 minutes in the 6th District, covering Central City and parts of Uptown.
The result in the most hard-pressed districts is a constant backlog of calls, a situation that is inherited when a platoon starts an eight-hour shift and remains when the next platoon takes over.
Many officers who could be trimming the response time and call backlog are instead working at assignments not related to patrol duties, according to the report. These assignments include desk duty at district stations, fleet maintenance, community coordinators and building maintenance.
At least 100 positions now manned by uniformed officers could be handled by civilians, the report states.
“Best practice suggests that officers currently assigned to desk duties, vehicle maintenance, and building maintenance service should be reassigned to patrol duty,” the report states.
The report also finds the department top-heavy with ranking supervisors. The data shows that supervisors oversee an average of 3.1 to 4.3 officers each, numbers “well above the national average for supervisors to staff.”
In a lengthy written response included in the report, Serpas states that the report is flawed by narrowly focusing on calls for service without taking into account the broader range of services offered by police.
“Most experts agree that it is self-defeating to orient a police department around responding to calls for service, because a department that focuses exclusively on response at the expense of proactive engagement will continually see higher and higher volumes of citizen requests for service,” Serpas wrote.
“Only by attempting to address these complaints before they are voiced can a department effectively serve its community.”
“Simply put, responding to calls for service means we are already late,” he wrote.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Serpas added that the report "ignores detectives."
"The officer most likely to solve the rape of your child or your wife is gonna be a detective -- not a calls for service officer. And this report ignores everything but calls for service, and that's why I disagree with it."
Serpas partially agreed that some NOPD positions could be filled civilians, but not nearly the 102 positions proposed by the report. The department identified 22 sworn positions that could be civilianized, including officers assigned to fleet management and technology assignments.
“In contrast to the targeted and thoughtful civilianization approach contemplated by NOPD, the OIG’s proposal to reassign 102 sworn officers is reckless, ill-advised,” Serpas stated in his 12-page response letter.
Serpas said he requested funding last year to hire civilians for those 22 jobs, but the city did not budget the money. Serpas said he would make the same request again this year.