NEW ORLEANS - Almost every night nowadays, you'll find Danny Hunter teaching fitness classes at Fortitude Crossfit in Slidell.
It's a far cry from his job just a few months ago as a New Orleans police officer in the multi-agency gang unit.
“When I left, it hurt my heart,” said Hunter. “I thought for sure I was going to retire from [NOPD] but just the way the department is going, the spiral that it's in, no.”
For Hunter, being a New Orleans police officer was once a lifelong dream. His grandfather and uncle both retired with high ranks. Hunter won numerous awards, including officer of the month, and an award from the DEA for his time on the narcotics unit.
But after seven years on the force, Hunter became one of 73 officers to leave so far this year. Some retired, some were fired, and some, like Hunter, were fed up.
“NOPD needs to start backing up the officers, start treating the officers like human beings,” said Hunter. “You can only work at a certain place for so long and get treated the way they treat you.”
One of Hunter’s biggest complaints involved schedule changes on short notice. Unexpected schedule changes not only impacted Hunter's personal life, but also that took him from combating gang violence or narcotics to patrolling the French Quarter, said the husband and father of three.
“There were times when I had search warrants, narcotics search warrants for houses, arrest warrants for people, and those warrants expired because I couldn't execute the search warrant because I was pulled to go downtown to work on Canal Street or Bourbon Street,” said Hunter.
Hunter said the changes began when Superintendent Ronal Serpas took office in 2010. But Serpas defends those decisions.
“You get both sides of that question, some people think you should only be in the blue and white car, other people think once you're a detective you should never go back to that car,” said Serpas. “We make those judgments every day to serve as best as we can.”
With police manpower at a modern-era low, the city is working to recruit more officers with television ads and community outreach.
Twenty-seven recruits are going through the only academy class so far this year. Three more have been hired for the next academy class, and more than 70 others are undergoing background checks.
But Hunter believes more should be done to keep those already on the force.
“No one called me to say, ‘Hey why are you leaving?’ No one called and said, ‘Hey, is there anything we can do to keep you here?’” Hunter said.
What's more, Hunter said he had not received a raise since he had been on the force. His take home pay actually went down, he said, because of rising pension and health care costs.
“I'm making a lot more money,” said Hunter, who is also a commercial crabber. “I could have went to Walmart or McDonald’s and made a lot more money than what I was making with NOPD at the time when I left.”
Hunter said he was taking home about $1,000 every two weeks when he started on the force. When he left, he was taking home about $650 every two weeks, which included a $100 deduction for a loan, and a $100 deduction for a take home car.
Hunter said a number of his friends on the force have taken jobs with other law enforcement agencies.
The police department reinvigorated the officer promotional system, said Serpas. 400 officers have received promotions, with five percent pay raises, since 2012.
Hunter said he was not able to test for a promotion because of two outstanding complaints against him. He said he was unaware of the complaints until he asked why he was not able to get promoted.
The Public Integrity Bureau eventually cleared those complaints, but Hunter said it took two to three years for the department launch an investigation.
Meanwhile, Serpas touts an improved police department as recruitment efforts continue.
“Inside the department, the equipment, the tools, the resources, the promotional opportunities, and the ability to take your career forward are fully engaged,” said Serpas. “The recruitment campaign is fully engaged.”