Short-staffed New Orleans police dispatch civilians to crash calls without injury: NPR
During the 2020 George Floyd protests, many called for the defunding of traditional policing. That didn’t happen, for the most part. But nearly three years later, some police departments are still shrinking.
A new criminological study of 14 major police departments found most had an “excessive” loss of full-time sworn officers since 2020, a trend verified at downtown agencies such as the New York Police Department. -Orleans.
In 2010, the NOPD had approximately 1,500 officers; a decade later it was around 1,200. As of 2020, the department is still down 20% to 944. Despite doubling recruitment efforts, the department continues to shrink.
“We’re looking at a situation where the department has already lost nearly 20 officers this year,” says Jeff Asher, a public safety consultant who tracks city police personnel for the New Orleans City Council. “It really impacts everything. You see response times that have gone from an average of around 50 minutes for any type of call in 2019 to over two and a half hours last year. now a little worse this year.”
Even longtime New Orleans residents say they see the difference.
“I get off the street at 4 p.m. every day,” says Delores Montgomery, a carpool driver. She says she was particularly shaken by the recent murder of another rideshare driver, as well as her own experience last year, seeing a couple chasing their stolen car at a gas station in broad daylight.
“It’s just one thing after another and you just sit there with your mouth open,” she said. “The criminals know there aren’t enough officers on the street! They know it!”
New Orleans, which was once ranked among the deadliest cities in the 1990s and late 2000s, has likely reclaimed the dubious distinction of worst murder rate per capita among cities with populations over 250,000 l ‘last year.
Base officers say they are less able to be present in crime hotspots, due to staff shortages.
“We are dealing with a police department of 1,600 officers led by 900 officers,” says Captain Mike Glasser, a veteran of the New Orleans Police Department who is also president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO).
Glasser attributes dwindling personnel to officers’ distrust of leadership, as well as escalating financial incentives that may encourage officers to retire early. There has also been intense pressure from other departments, which are recruiting NOPD for quieter jobs in the suburbs. Regardless of the causes, Glasser says it’s time to accept some realities.
The New Orleans Police Department is trying to get rid of less risky tasks
“We really never reorganized the department,” Glasser says. “There are some things that we should probably shorten – or eliminate, temporarily – in order to sort out the crime problem.”
One thing NOPD is trying to get off of its plate: less risky policing tasks, like going to the scene of car wrecks without injury.
“Citizens are still calling 911, their call is still being forwarded. However, it’s being forwarded to our agents,” says Ethan Cheramie, founder of a company called On Scene Services (OSS). It employs unarmed ex-police officers who travel to shipwreck sites to gather information and provide reports.
“Our agents react quickly and efficiently, to allow everyone to continue their day,” says Cheramie. OSS has had two cars respond to crashes in New Orleans in the past five years, and with the officer shortage worsening, the city just signed an expanded contract for seven OSS cars — enough, according to Cheramie. , to free up the equivalent of 15 full-time officers for other duties.
“You’re going to continue to see the alternative police response shift from armed types to civilians to respond to these non-violent calls for service,” Cheramie said.
And yet, the city’s follow-up has been slow. Last year, the NOPD pledged to hire civilians for 50 new positions performing traditional policing tasks such as fingerprinting and property crime investigations. There were more than enough qualified candidates, but so far the department has only announced three hires.
In an email to NPR, the NOPD cited the “multiple steps” involved in hiring civilians, but reaffirmed “how crucial it is to hire commissioned and professional personnel.”
The department would not make anyone available for interviews, citing lack of staff.
Another factor that may complicate the process is political unrest. The department has seen command shuffles in recent months, and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is facing a possible recall election.
Some of the resistance to civilianization may also come from the police themselves. President of NAFO Mike Glasser says the best solution to the officer shortage is consolidation — putting investigations under one roof — rather than just hiring more civilians.
The problem with civilian employees, he says, is that they can only do the jobs they were hired to do. If the department suddenly needs extra staff to, say, crowd control during Mardi Gras, they can’t help.
“Should we civilize some things? Probably yes, we should. Other things, I have to caution, that’s not a long-term, sustainable philosophy,” Glasser said.
Nationally, more police officers are expressing an interest in civilizing some of their work. The Los Angeles police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, recently proposed that civilians respond to more non-violent 911 calls, such as wellness checks and loud parties.
But, like New Orleans, cities that have pledged to move in this direction are struggling to follow — the Baltimore City police, for example. Last year the department announced that it would hire civilian investigators; a year later, their training has yet to begin.
The story was edited by Maquita Peters.