NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Police Department superintendent and the Landrieu administration asked the Civil Service Commission to drastically change how the highest ranking officers are hired and fired.

The commission signed off on the measure in principal, with their final vote next month hinging on the details.

'Our proposal calls for consolidating and combining our 32 police divisions led by a combination of majors, captains and lieutenants into 16 police divisions each led by a police Colonel,' NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas told the Commission Monday.

It's the first step in a major restructuring of the NOPD.

With the 16 new 'colonel' positions, Serpas said he would ultimately eliminate the rank of 'major,' giving the colonels a pay hike and giving him the authority to promote and demote them. Eight of the proposed colonels would serve as commanders of the NOPD's eight neighborhood districts.

But opponents said Monday that the move goes beyond the new positions.

'We see this largely as an erosion of civil service,' said Claude Schlesinger, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP.

Serpas said he wants a three-tier panel to choose three finalists for each colonel position. Ultimately, the choice of who gets the promotion would be Serpas'.

Instead of officers testing to move up rank by rank -- for example, from lieutenant to captain, captain to major, and major to colonel -- lieutenants could leapfrog others and be appointed colonel.

It changes the promotion structure, which opponents said guarantees experience and eliminates favoritism.

'The chief is where he is because he was a captain, because he was a major, because he was a deputy chief and went to other departments and I think that is gonna be lacking,' said Captain Mike Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans or PANO.

'An erosion of a step-by-step process of defining merit, as opposed to having an open competition that is independently and transparently judged, I would argue, that the most meritorious candidates based on their qualifications get selected, not just because they've been in the cue,' said New Orleans Deputy Mayor and CAO Andy Kopplin in support of the move.

Opponents said these are all changes that can be made within the existing civil service structure already in place at City Hall. But Serpas argued that's not possible because it doesn't open up the field of candidates wide enough.

'If you have 16 civil service majors, you're shuffling the chairs again. You're not substantively making any changes, you're just shuffling the chairs that you have,' because promotions to major are required to be made from the existing NOPD Captains.

Serpas said he would fund the positions through the attrition of others. The director of the Civil Service Commission questioned whether benefits would make the positions more costly and whether the colonel model is the best model for the NOPD.

Serpas and Kopplin pushed the board for tentative approval, saying the police unions would never agree with it in principle, but that he'd work with them on the details before the final vote next month.

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