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Staffing woes at NOPD 

Councilwoman Susan Guidry: "We all feel there's a crisis"

  New Orleans has lost 300 more officers than it hired since 2010 amid what some city leaders are calling a staffing crisis. Even with new recruitment efforts finally underway and the promise of hiring 100 new officers over the next year, the New Orleans City Council is looking for new ways to put more police on the streets faster.

  The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) is budgeted for 1,260 sworn officers this year, but currently has around 1,200, said Superintendent Ronal Serpas in a hearing before the City Council's criminal justice committee Sept. 25. The city has lost 306 more officers through retirement, resignations and firings than it hired since Serpas took office in 2010. The chief acknowledged that 1,260 is too few cops for New Orleans — a better number, he said, would be 1,575.

  Not counting the headquarters staff and centralized investigation divisions (such as homicide, traffic and others), that leaves roughly 70 or 80 officers in each of the city's eight districts — except the French Quarter-based Eighth District, Serpas said. Each of the districts has its own investigative staffs, and after time off and sick days, about six or seven officers are assigned to take calls in each district during each of the day's three shifts, Serpas said. Even that figure was challenged, however, by attorney Eric Hessler of the Police Association of New Orleans, who said that after desk duty and special assignments, there are more like three officers actually answering radio calls each shift in each district.

  The Office of the Inspector General released a report last week that includes data showing the average response time grew 31 percent from less than nine minutes in 2010 to more than 11-and-a-half minutes in 2012.

  "We all feel that there is a crisis," said District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who chairs the criminal justice committee. Murder and violent crime rates may be down this year, she said, but the horrific killings of children have not abated. "The sense that the public has is that none of us is safe."

  Serpas disputed claims that attrition has increased under his leadership, showing figures that ian average of roughly 130 officers left per year between 2008 and 2010. In the years since then, that figure has slowed to around 105 officers leaving per year, Serpas said. (Again, the police unions disputed his math, arguing that those numbers actually represent a larger percentage of the smaller department now than they did in years past.) The real change, Serpas said, is that the city stopped recruiting officers amid massive holes in the budget. Hiring slowed dramatically in 2010, stopped altogether in 2011 and barely restarted in 2012 and 2013, his data showed.

  After the meeting, Serpas said he believes the NOPD will return to its budgeted 1,260 officers next year, and the 1,575 officers the department needs may one day be attainable.

  "It absolutely is, but it takes time," Serpas said. "When you don't hire for three years in a row, you get slowed down. But now we're hiring, and we're going to continue to hire for the next three years out. We'll catch up."

— ROBERT MORRIS | UPTOWN MESSENGER

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