Manpower dominates NOPD budget hearing

NEW ORLEANS - Concerns over NOPD manpower became the hot topic of discussion at City Hall Wednesday as council members discussed next year's budget.

"I think we need to address the domicile issue, and I think we need to have more trained police," said Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.

Right now, of the roughly 1,200 sworn officers, only about 700 of them actually patrol the streets. It's a number that all council members agree is way too low.

"We can expand their horizons on where and how they can recruit," Clarkson said.

With next year's budget, Chief Ronal Serpas told the council he'll be able to have five new recruit classes, bringing in 150 additional officers.

About $300,000 of the budget would go towards an aggressive recruiting campaign.

"Five recruit classes isn't the solution to our problem of getting enough officers," said Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. "The solution is to offer a more attractive pay plan."

Council members also believe a way to retain officers already on the force would be to give them a pay raise. Some council members, though, don't believe high-ranking officers should be included.

"We should be able to give your officers a 30 percent raise, however, I only took it up to captains," Hedge-Morrell said.

"The people who we inspire to be leaders should not be disenfranchised because they chose to be leaders," Serpas said.

Council members agreed that raises probably wouldn't be possible for quite some time, but discussions will continue. Serpas said the NOPD's 2014 proposed budget will help to make his department better.

"New vehicles is a positive," he said. "Buildings being opened up is a positive. The first three-and-a half years were tough on these officers, and now we're getting some breathing room."

The proposed budget for the NOPD next year is $128 million dollars. That's about $1.8 million more than last year.