The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has been the subject of several recent news investigations for its slow response time. Last week New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams called a public meeting to address the department's response to sexual assault and domestic violence, as reports and calls for service for those crimes have increased in 2015.
"Just a returned call, a meeting, an email wasn't enough ... to hash out how serious these issues are," Williams said at the Oct. 28 meeting at Holy Angels Convent in Bywater. "An engaged, informed community is the greatest safety net."
Lt. Bruce Haney, who oversees the Special Victims Section, said sexual assaults are up from 228 in 2014 to 375 so far in 2015 — likely because more survivors are reporting their assaults and more rigorous police work properly documents them, he said, adding that public forums discussing assault will help lessen the stigma of being a victim. "We have to get away from blaming the survivor," he said.
Sexual assault nurse examiners, who perform rape kit exams, are on call 24/7 at University Medical Center, and NOPD recently received a $1 million U.S. Department of Justice grant to expedite rape kit processing. This follows the discovery of a massive backlog of untested and undiscovered kits in NOPD. But the department is limited by the time it takes to process DNA samples — sometimes more than a month after initial tests are performed, according to NOPD Commander Doug Eckert, who heads the Criminal Investigative Division which includes the Special Victims Section. NOPD has three DNA analysts and hopes to hire four more.
NOPD's 5th District has seen a spike in sexual assaults in the last month, though 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly says "overall crime" is down 12 percent in 2015 from 2014.
Several public speakers at the meeting asked about slow response time to assaults — one woman said she survived an assault despite getting no response from a 911 operator.
"That's not the first time I heard that," Eckert said. "That one second makes all the difference in the world." At stat meetings, "the guys are grilled" and "have to give an explanation" for poor response times, Eckert added.
NOPD's planned 2016 budget is $142 million, a $10 million increase from its 2015 budget. During a budget hearing Oct. 29, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison told the City Council that despite reports that its "Blueprint for Safety" protocols are slowing response time to other crimes, "The Blueprint for Safety is a best practice. We don't say it slows us down because it's something we should be adhering to," Harrison said.
Last week, NOPD also launched its third recruit class of 2015 with 32 recruits, bringing its total 2015 recruit class to 95. It plans to launch a fourth class in December.