Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf will release the results of a nearly month-long survey measuring job satisfaction in the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) this week. The online survey was commissioned by the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO).
NOPD employees began taking the survey — via a login available only to them — in early June. The survey closed at midnight June 24. Participation has not been overwhelming, but it has been significant, Scharf told Gambit last week.
"I checked this morning, and it was just below 500," Scharf says, noting that he eliminated apparent ballot-stuffers. The 483 responses Scharf counted as of last week reflect attitudes and opinions from roughly 30 percent of all NOPD personnel budgeted for the 2012 fiscal year.
All three police associations — PANO, the Black Organization of Police (BOP) and the largest, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) — have agreed to allow (meaning neither encourage nor prohibit) their members to participate in the survey, even though BOP and FOP were not consulted beforehand.
"That's an internal misunderstanding between the organizations," FOP attorney Raymond Burkart says, adding it hasn't caused any inter-association strife. "The officers realize that through it all the labor organizations are making every effort necessary ... to ensure their safety and well-being."
Burkart pointed to recent signs of progress in department-officer relations, including a just-announced program to train career-track patrol officers for promotions, which NOPD hasn't done on a large scale since 2009. In testimony before City Council last week, New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas called the program a "result of the incredibly unique relationship with the FOP."
Still, Burkart said he thinks the results will underscore many issues his organization regularly takes to NOPD leadership. "What's most important is that the administration sees that when the FOP says it is speaking for its members, it's speaking for its members," Burkart says. (BOP president Capt. Simon Hargrove did not respond to Gambit's request for comment by press time.)
Participation was about the same in a 2010 NOPD-sanctioned satisfaction survey, the last one the department commissioned. The results from that survey were fairly positive. Notably, 62 percent of 548 respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "In general, I am satisfied with my job."
But NOPD Capt. Mike Glasser, president of PANO, thinks the survey to be released this week will paint a far different picture than the one in 2010. This time, he predicts, the results will show a department in trouble — severely understaffed and continuing to hemorrhage personnel, and a leadership that refuses to address real problems.
And because so many NOPD employees responded, Glasser says, he doesn't think NOPD or City Hall can ignore it.
"Mike Glasser complains every day. If the sun's shining, Mike Glasser complains," Mayor Mitch Landrieu told WVUE-TV in mid-May.
Landrieu was responding to a public letter issued by PANO in May. In the letter, PANO blamed NOPD policies and leadership — and by extension the Landrieu administration — for the city's chronically high violent crime rate. It was the second such letter PANO had released this year. An earlier letter, in February, was published on the PANO web site.
Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni said the mayor "was probably addressing that as we reform the Police Department, some people are going to be unhappy. We're working day and night to make sure that the consent decree is in place and that there will be lasting change in the Police Department."
Glasser says the NOPD tried to dismiss the February letter as the work of "only a handful of disgruntled officers." He sent the second letter directly to the New Orleans City Council — "[after] which the administration, once again, took a posture of dismissal, denial, and in fact this time came out and said it's just me."
Regardless of how many officers' sentiments the letter reflects, it takes on a touchy subject: the city's violent crime rate.
"Since April 21, 2012, there have been 17 shootings resulting in 10 deaths ... 7 of those shootings in the last 3 days," Glasser wrote in the May letter. "If the sheer number of shooting incidents are not cause for alarm, the manner, location, and age of the victims certainly should be. And nothing changes."
The February letter, which was attributed to an anonymous "platoon of officers from a police district in the NOPD," characterized Serpas' approach to crime fighting as statistically obsessed and lacking focus, constantly responding to major incidents with new policies affecting work scheduling and patrol routes. The letter also took aim at NOPD's strategies for dealing with violent crime, such as the "Milwaukee plan" aimed at reducing homicide.
"We had the Milwaukee plan. We have the Cincinnati plan now. We had the Chicago plan and the St. Louis plan. We're willing to take ideas from everywhere in the country, except for right here," Glasser says.
Asked to comment on the survey, NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden wrote in an email, "Superintendent Serpas — who is a member of the NOPD, but was not extended the survey through email, readily acknowledges that the department has its problems." She added,"[Serpas] came back to New Orleans to reform this department, which he found in serious need of repair. Reform is change — and major change is never popular. What is important is that NOPD officers are working harder every day, and that's apparent, considering that overall crime [year-to-date] compared to last year's numbers is trending downward (2.6%). The Superintendent appreciates the officers' dedication to the people of New Orleans, and their patience."
At a June 28 City Council meeting, Serpas gave the council the same 2.6 percent reduction figure. When Councilwoman-at-Large Stacy Head countered that crime had increased in the 52 weeks from June 2011 to June 2012, Serpas said he expects crime to go down in "this 52 week period — ending on Dec. 31."
Regardless of what the Scharf survey shows this week, the two PANO letters allege that the department is chronically understaffed. Glasser says that's the crux of NOPD's problem.
"The one thing that's inescapable is that we have a horrific attrition rate. We've lost over 60 officers in 2012. We're losing them at a rate of 10 a month," Glasser says.
NOPD is currently budgeted for 1,350 officers. Glasser says the number of cops on the job is far less. "The question is why," he says. "Because if you can't keep the people you have, who live here, who have an investment in their career, who are in positions that go beyond entry level ... how are you going to attract new people? What's the draw? What's the carrot? You have to figure out what that problem is."
At last week's City Council meeting, Serpas claimed the attrition rate is not only far below crisis level, but also actually normal for a department of NOPD's size. "We're at about 1,317 today, but that number changes every day," Serpas said. "We've lost about 46 or 47 people so far this year at the halfway point ... In every department I've been in of about the same size, that's been our loss." Braden told Gambit the chief wants to pay officers more money, get them better cars and have new district buildings.
Scharf says that despite PANO's involvement in the survey's creation, he designed the survey to be as neutral as possible to avoid any accusation of deliberately skewing results, a process commonly known as "push-polling."
Glasser says that when he approached Scharf about conducting the new survey, shortly after the release of the May letter, all he provided was a list of topics. Scharf and his staff designed the survey.
"We didn't want it to be leading in any way," Scharf says. He took the same approach that the city took in its own NOPD-sponsored survey in 2010. Interviewers in that survey read a statement about the department, then asked respondents to choose from a set of responses ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree."
Indeed, most statements seem neutrally worded. "The department uses up-to-date technology" is one prompt. Another: "I [blank] the Mayor's new plan to reform off-duty police details" — the fill-in-the-blank options range from "like extremely" to "dislike extremely." Other statements might be more leading, such as, "Constant changes in department policies make it difficult for me to perform my duties properly."
Then there was a pointed June 4 letter from PANO that accompanied the announcement of the survey — sent to the officers who were being asked to take it.
"[W]e are in the wake of increasing street violence, and faced with more 'plans,' more 'missions,' but fewer and fewer officers due to an appalling attrition rate and astonishingly low morale, not to mention a shrinking fleet," the letter states. "The administration maintains that all is well, and the majority of officers are pleased with the direction of the department and confident in philosophies we are asked to embrace."
Berni says neither he nor anyone else in Landrieu's office has seen the PANO survey. "The only thing I saw was the letter before the poll — if that's any indication," he says.
Scharf, who took on the project independently and not as a representative of Tulane, says the NOPD and the Landrieu administration should take great interest in the results. He thinks cops' responses to his questions will be more candid than to a city-sponsored survey, not only because the login was anonymous but also because the survey wasn't city-commissioned. "Cops, by their nature, are suspicious," he says.
He thinks the city should embrace the results — whatever they are — especially as NOPD hammers out final details of a long-awaited consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. Glasser says he agrees and hopes the city tailors its consent decree policy to better reflect employee-identified issues. "We're of course all curious to see what the results will suggest," he says.