NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration issued a clarification on Friday, hours after the mayor said a police shortage could derail plans for Mardi Gras 2023.
Here is the complete statement.
"We ARE NOT canceling Mardi Gras.
New Orleans, like the rest of the nation, is experiencing a shortage of public safety personnel that includes police, fire, EMS – across the board – you name it. The United States Army even says recruitment for our Armed Services has reached historic lows. I hear from my brother and sister Mayors all the time about how these global economic challenges – the big three: inflation, supply chain, and labor shortage – have created unforeseen difficulties that hamper our ability to attract candidates to these noble professions. New York, Chicago, and even our own Louisiana State Police all are facing unprecedented personnel shortages. However, we have taken aggressive steps to increase recruitment and retention initiatives, have enhanced technology, and built more efficient facilities as we have discussed over the last few weeks.
We have invested nearly $1 million into promotional marketing and introduced enhanced equipment and facilities, including the $3.7 million firing range that my administration unveiled yesterday, which is the first of its kind in our city and signifies our commitment to 21st century policing. In addition, starting early next year, we will begin paying cash bonuses of $5,000 to police officers according to their years on the force. We understand the challenges are real, but the City of New Orleans remains committed to delivering critical resources needed for our public safety agencies, while also continuing to safely host large-scale events that allow us to celebrate our beloved culture."
Cantrell made her initial comments about Mardi Gras being jeopardized during a community town hall meeting at Lakeview Christian Center Thursday night, according to the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate. The mayor was responding to a question, read via card by a moderator, asking "What will Mardi Gras look like next year, given the alarming rate of attrition in the New Orleans Police Department?"
"If you don't have adequate police, it could mean there will be no Mardi
Gras. That’s a fact,” Cantrell said.
The mayor did not say what she considered to be "adequate" police staffing for Mardi Gras, or if the city is below that level. Last year, New Orleans shortened parade routes due to the ongoing police officer shortage.
She added that she does not want to cancel the festivities.
"Look, you know I don’t want to cancel Mardi Gras, no not at all,” Cantrell said. “But when it comes to jeopardizing the safety of the men and women who make that ultimate sacrifice and kiss their families when they leave every day and hope to come at night or in the morning, they are the priority.
City Council President Helena Moreno responded on Twitter to Cantrell's comments saying, "Better approach is to start planning now on bringing in all resources needed to ensure we have a safe Mardi Gras." Moreno's tweet included a facepalm emoji.
During a council meeting on Friday, Moreno asked NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson about Cantrell's statements.
"Right now, we have to do our assessment, so I don't think now is the time to panic, now is the time to plan, Ferguson said.
Moreno agreed with the chief, adding "Let's not make irresponsible comments and create panic."
Eyewitness investigator Mike Perlstein revealed in July that since the beginning of 2020, the number of officers hired compared to those who left shows a trend going in the wrong direction. Records from the New Orleans Police Department and Civil Service show 58 officers added last year, while 96 left, a net loss of 38 officers. The situation has grown worse this year, with 27 recruits hired, but 78 out the door, a loss of 51. That puts the force at about 1,100, with more than 100 at any one time on desk duty, out sick, in the academy, or on military leave. That leaves the city more than 500 officers short of its longstanding goal of 1,600.
This is a developing story, and it will be updated with the latest information available. Stick with WWLTV.com for the latest news.