Exclusive: NOPD down to 300 platoon officers

As a new chief scrambles to redeploy a severely short-staffed police department, new figures provided to WWL-TV show that NOPD is down to just 300 platoon officers who can patrol the streets and respond to service calls.

NEW ORLEANS – As a new chief scrambles to redeploy a severely short-staffed police department, new figures provided to WWL-TV show that NOPD is down to just 300 platoon officers who can patrol the streets and respond to service calls.

Factoring in for shift variations, sick leave and training using a formula calculated by the New Orleans inspector general, those 300 platoon officers only work the equivalent of 185 cops at maximum hours.

WWL-TV requested staffing data under the state's Public Records Act last month. The department responded Tuesday by reporting that it has 1,148 commissioned officers, well off its target of 1,600.

Drilling down further, the department said that 593 of those officers are recruits, police officers and sergeants, so-called "blue shirts," assigned to the Field Operations Bureau. But 91 of them are on military or long-term injury leave, desk duty or suspension.

NOPD has assigned 330 officers to district patrol platoons, the cops who are ready to respond to calls for service. But 30 of those are new recruits who are still in training and must ride along with another officer when they go out on calls, leaving the 300 who can respond.

Capt. Mike Glasser, from the Police Association of New Orleans, said that's simply untenable.

"The only thing worse than somebody being a victim of a crime is when they call the police and they don't come. Or it takes them 6 or 8 or 12 hours or they don't come at all," he said.

Chief Michael Harrison said he's working to expand which officers are available for calls for service. He shifted 23 officers who were handling administrative work back to the street last month, and is huddling with his top brass to find more ways to add to the beat.

"We're looking inside police headquarters as we speak, to find members who have positions that they could sacrifice one or two days a week to help us out in the field," Harrison said. "And so they still have critical duties. We just have to utilize them in a smarter way."

But Glasser said a few redeployments won't solve this big a problem.

"You know, we go to roll calls and we see three officers, two officers, one officer going up for roll call," he said. "When you reach a point where … the presence or absence of a single patrolman can determine whether you can deliver public safety, that's a problem."

Harrison says the department can grow to the 1,600 officers it needs to do both pro-active and responsive policing. But so far, trying to hire new officers and recruits has not put a dent into the shortage.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to add 150 new police officers this year. But that's about the same number of officers the department lost last year. If the attrition rate doesn't slow considerably, it will be a long time before the force regains and retains 500 additional sworn officers.

Glasser suggests it's time to scrap community coordinators and quality of life officers and the detectives, K-9 officers and other specialists who were sent out into the districts 20 years ago.

"Proactive work, having people specifically dedicated to proactive work, is a very good thing, but it's a luxury," he said. "It's a luxury you have when you have adequate staffing (and) we don't have adequate staffing."

Harrison vehemently disagrees. The department, after all, is still trying to counteract the loss of trust that came with revelations of police brutality, killings and corruption after Hurricane Katrina.

"While we have staffing challenges, I don't think we can afford to not do community policing," the chief said. "We have to always participate in some form of community policing and community engagement so that we can build that trust that we so desperately need."

Glasser fired off an angry letter to Landrieu on Tuesday, accusing the mayor of turning his back on the police force by calling in federal oversight, highlighting the department's failures and overhauling the private detail system that was called the "aorta of corruption" by the U.S. Justice Department, but was a critical source of supplemental income for officers who haven't gotten a raise in eight years.

But Harrison rejected that characterization as well, saying Landrieu is supporting officers by offering a 5-percent raise this year and investing in significant new infrastructure – including new computers, new stun guns, 100 new police cars and 200 more body cameras.

Harrison said that's an effort at retention – "so we can make this a good place where people would want to work."

But Glasser said all the veterans see is the spending on recruitment, so they're leaving to work for other forces, like the state police, the sheriff's offices in Jefferson or St. Tammany parishes and even the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. Then, ironically, Landrieu has had to turn around and ask some of those entities to send personnel to the city to cover events like the Sugar Bowl and Mardi Gras.

"We'll allow them to go to the state police, then beg them to come back wearing a state police uniform," Glasser said.

Adding to the stress on an overworked force are the requirements imposed by the federal Justice Department consent decree, parts of which are only now taking effect. Harrison said the decree forces NOPD to carry more supervisors than it might otherwise, to make sure the non-rank officers are properly managed. And Glasser said it's created more paperwork to document interactions with the public in greater detail, which also keeps officers off the street longer.

But it's hard to put an exact number on how many more police officers should be redeployed to beat the street while the department tries to add back 500 cops.

"I can't sit here and give you a firm number. If I were in charge I'd have to take a look at it and see where it was. So I can't give you a firm number, but I'm just going to tell you what's happening now isn't working," Glasser said.

Quatrevaux warned against using such metrics as officers-per-capita or officers-per-square-mile to come up with the right deployment strategy.

"Every district is different. There are different parts of one district that are very different," Harrison said. "So the commander day by day, sometimes shift by shift, has to make adjustments to deal with call for service, directed patrols, to deal with a rash of crime that may pop up today on a day shift, but on another day might arise on the night shift or an evening shift."

Quatrevaux said an analysis the inspector general's office did in May -- when there were 65 more officers in NOPD and 61 more available to answer calls for service – showed the department needed at least 100 additional officers available for service calls if it wanted those cops to spend anything less than half their time answering such calls.


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