New Orleanians looking to understand just how long the NOPD’s manpower rebuild will likely take need only look west to San Diego. The similarities between where New Orleans is today and where San Diego has been over the last decade are striking.
The San Diego Police Department finished 2015 with 1,857 officers, 271 officers short of the 2,128 officers the department was budgeted for in 2015. The problems for San Diego began way back in 2004 and 2005 when the city cancelled five academy classes for budgetary reasons. Without recruits the department fell below its budgeted officer allotment, and an increase in attrition toward the end of 2005 exacerbated the problem. The department fell even further with the national economic recession, and a pay raise in 2014 has failed to enable the force to close its manpower shortage as of the end of 2015.
A National Problem
New Orleans is not the only city in America with a police manpower shortage and it is not the only city in the country struggling to overcome the problem. A quick internet search shows similar shortages in Washington, D.C., Houston, Atlantic City, Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Newark, and more.
The city's initial plan to grow by 440 officers by 2020 called for growth rates of between 5 and 8 percent each year for five straight years. It seems very reasonable and achievable on the surface, but police departments nationally simply are not adding new officers at those rates these days. The median police department for a city over 250,000, for example, shrunk from 2009 to 2013 before growing by roughly half a percent over the last two years.
Only 4 of the 79 police departments for cities over 250,000 people grew by 60 police officers in 2015 and one of those was the colossal NYPD. None of the other 3 departments that increased by 60 or more in 2015 accomplished that feat in any other year dating back to 2010, and only two departments with over 1,000 officers reached the 5 percent growth level in 2015 that NOPD is hoping for in 2016 and beyond. Long term growth is especially difficult for police departments nationwide. The median police department for a city over 250,000 grew by a total of 6 percent between 2004 and 2008. Over the last five years the median police department has neither grown nor shrunk. In order to grow to 1,600 officers by 2020, by comparison, NOPD would have to increase by nearly 38 percent in the next 5 years.
Simply put, the levels of growth NOPD has been budgeted for since 2013 are attainable, but looking at the national picture suggests sustained growth at those levels will be extremely difficult to achieve.
A Math Problem
The recruitment problem for New Orleans can be boiled down to the number of applicants received and the efficiency with which the city turns applicants into recruits. Think of it like this math formula:
(# of Applicants) X (% of Acceptance) = Recruits
If you want to increase the number of officers you're adding to the force you can either increase the number of applications you receive or you can increase the percent of applicants you're able to hire. The former is achieved through recruiting fairs and advertising while the latter requires attracting higher quality applicants or improving your internal processes to make it easier to hire law enforcement officers.
The city, NOPD and NOPJF have taken these steps by allocating more financial resources to the recruiting process to increase the number of recruits, making the job more appealing through pay raises to improve the quality of recruits, and reducing the processing time to increase the number of approved applicants who ultimately join the force.
These are all very positive steps, but breaking down the numbers behind NOPD recruitment since 2014 highlights what a daunting challenge bringing aboard 150 officers truly is.
To begin with, adding 150 officers to the force actually requires recruiting 165 as roughly 10 percent of recruits have dropped out during the training process (7 of 63 recruits dropped out of the two training classes that were launched and graduated in 2015). The NOPD received 250 applicants per month in 2014, around 400 per month in 2015, and about 300 through the first 3 months of 2016 with an expectation that that number will increase when a new marketing campaign launches.
There were two recruiting classes of about 31 each initially in 2014. Looking at it another way, 2.1 percent of applicants eventually became recruits in 2014. The investment in improved processes paid off in 2015 as there were four recruiting classes with 129 recruits which comes out to about 2.6 percent of applicants eventually becoming recruits.
Unfortunately, getting 150 new officers in any given year will require either substantially more recruits or a substantially more efficient recruiting pipeline. NOPD would have to receive over 6,500 applications a year at 2015's applicant acceptance rate in order to add 150 new officers to the force. Alternatively NOPD would have to accept 3.3 percent of applicants with the 5,000 applications that the department received in 2015. If the department wants to add 185 new officers in a year those numbers grow to nearly 8,000 applicants or 4.1 percent of applicants accepted.