NEW ORLEANS — Making his case to increase his budget, New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson told city council members Thursday, hiring more officers is a priority.
“Our recruitment efforts are in partnership with the Police and Justice Foundation. We have our own recruitment team,” said Ferguson.
That team is faced with a big challenge of attraction and retention as NOPD deals with a 45-year low in active badge numbers. As of Monday, there were 1,094 commissioned NOPD officers. Starting salary is $40,391.
"We’re in a hole really, manpower-wise in New Orleans, and we have to get out of that hole,” said Donovan Livaccari, with the Fraternal Order of Police.
Livaccari says that only happens when more officers are hired than lost. He estimates about 125 have left so far this year and says recruitment must be aggressive.
“We have to be able to be competitive and not just competitive here in the metropolitan area, but competitive throughout the state and the country,” said Livaccari.
The department is allowed 90 new hires under the current budget. Chief Ferguson hopes for the same in the new one. Before George Floyd protests and COVID, Ferguson says NOPD averaged 400 to 500 applications a month. Now, it’s about 250 a month, many of them locals.
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing with our local applicants is that we’re having some challenges getting through the process,” said Ferguson. “Testing issues and things of that nature.”
With applications down, almost every major crime in the city is slightly up compared to this time last year. That’s according to the city council’s crime dashboard. Ferguson says a Summer enforcement operation was successful but too often, officers are arresting the same people. That he says, impacts officer morale.
“When the arrested subject themselves tells them, ‘I’ll be out before you get off,’ that sends a message to that officer and they begin to question themselves, ‘Why am I out here,’” said Ferguson.
Livaccari says that creates problems since the best recruitment tools are officers already on the force.
“You have to have happy officers to keep other officers there and to attract new officers,” said Livaccari.
Chief Ferguson says the city has committed $500,000 dollars for a recruiting campaign.