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Chief Serpas presents 2013 budget; council says more cops needed

Supt. Ronal Serpas discusses proposed 2013 budget before the City Council. Supt. Ronal Serpas discusses proposed 2013 budget before the City Council.

New Orleans, La. -- Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas presented his proposed 2013 budget to the City Council Wednesday.  Council members said too few officer positions are funded in the proposed spending plan.

And at least one council member thinks it is time to have the city's inspector general or an independent auditor review the police department's budget.

Serpas showed up in council chambers to discuss the proposed spending plan, totaling close to $133 million.

"There's no question, you know, and we know that our department over these last many budget cycles has gotten smaller… We are about 18 percent smaller than we were in May of 2010," Serpas stated.

The budget proposed by Mayor Landrieu for the NOPD funds 1,260 officers of any rank -- that's 53 fewer than this year, a fact that perturbs council members.

"I've always wanted 1,700, and with that mind we certainly did not want to fall between 1,260," said At-Large Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.

Council President Stacy Head said they recently learned that the NOPD's budget can be misleading: "We believed we funded 1,608 full-time employees [in 2012], but actually we funded less than that because they're counting for attrition in that number."  She said they do not want that to happen in 2013.

"About 86 percent of the people in the department have their shoulder to the wheel every day, somehow or another, fighting or investigating crime," said Serpas.

Council members said the crime problem warrants 200 additional officers. At the very least they want the NOPD to have two classes of police trainees next year, one in January and one later in the year.

"A full year for a new recruit class and a half year for another one, that's about $2.8 million dollars that is not in the budget," said Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.

As it stands now, administration officials said Chief Serpas will be able to start a new recruit class next summer when attrition within the department is sufficient.

Police groups blast that idea.

"Last year you had 1,366, now you're down to 1,260 -- are you better off than a year ago? Are you better off at 1,366 than you were at 1,500? Clearly you're not. They need to find that $2.8 million and accept that.  That's what the citizens want, that saves lives," said attorney Raymond Burkart of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Councilwoman Head said it is time to bring in the city's inspector general or an independent auditor to look over the NOPD's budget so that there is no confusion over what the money is paying for.  "Find out exactly where the money is going and what it really will take to get us more officers on the street," said Head.

Money to pay for reforms mandated as part of the consent decree hammered out between the NOPD and the U.S. Justice Department was also discussed, after Serpas completed presenting his budget plan.

Serpas said changes that he has already implemented are getting results. He said complaints against cops have fallen.

"Right now we're down again this year, 23 percent less complaints from citizens to PIB.  More importantly we are seeing that we have to issue less disciplinary actions," Serpas said.

PIB stands for the Public Integrity Bureau within the police department.

Some on the council believe the city cannot afford to foot the full tab for the consent decree reforms.

"What happens if we don't have the money to pay it?" asked Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge Morrell.

An administration attorney said, "Then I think we're held in contempt."

A budget for the police department and all of city government must be approved by December 1.

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