NEW ORLEANS — In her most urgent announcement about the beleaguered NOPD in her more than four years in office, Mayor LaToya Cantrell described the steady exodus of officers a “crisis,” and announced a sweeping set of proposals to retain the fewer than 1,000 officers remaining and attract new ones.
Addressing everything from outfitting new police cruisers to relaxing “personal appearance” standards to allow shorts, beards and painted fingernails, Cantrell said her most urgent priority is getting the NOPD out from under the 10-year-old federal consent decree.
“The consent decree handcuffs our officers by making their jobs harder, pestering them with punitive punishment and burying them with paperwork,” Cantrell said.
The 2012 consent decree was welcomed by then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu to bring Constitutional policing and large-scale reforms to a troubled NOPD, but Cantrell said the department is now a national model and enough is enough.
At an animated press conference Thursday, Cantrell said her legal team will soon file the latest in what has been a series of motions to persuade U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to lift the consent decree and free the NOPD from constant oversight by federal monitors.
Cantrell said the weight of the consent decree, which she says has also steered the Public Integrity Bureau to uphold disciplinary action that many officers see as onerous and unnecessary, is one of the main reasons officers are leaving the force in record numbers. The department now stands at a modern-era low of fewer than 1,000 officers, far from the previously budgeted strength of 1,600.
“I’m concerned about officers’ ability to protect themselves,” Cantrell said.
The mayor said that the urgency of NOPD’s problems led her to cancel a trip to Singapore last Thursday so she could make the rounds of police roll calls district-by-district, unit-by-unit.
She said the Thursday visits left her alarmed with eight officers quitting and one retiring. She described the give-and-take between her and officers as candid and “powerful.”
“Nothing fell on deaf ears,” she said.
“Officers had an open forum to way whatever they wanted,” added Ferguson.
Many of the proposals by Cantrell and Ferguson will take time to implement, such as a more frequent schedule for promotions, getting 75 new police cars on the street and, of course, lifting the consent decree.
Ferguson said the department will continue an ongoing push to allow civilians to handle some police calls in order to take the burden of off over-worked officers, who sometimes arrive for a shift with more than 50 unanswered calls waiting for them.
“We're looking to have an alternative response to mental health, alternative response to minor domestic calls, if at all possible, alternative response to car crashes,” Ferguson said.
But some proposals are expected to take effect as soon as this weekend, including granting officers permission to wear beards, painted fingernails and – at least during summer months to wear shorts and baseball caps.
Claude Schlesinger, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, was at Thursday’s press conference and had an immediate positive response. The FOP represent hundreds of rank-and-file officers.
“To talk about the reforms they want to implement, that is fantastic. That is good news,” he said “Of course, it can't happen soon enough.”