NOPD staffing, raises are focus of council meeting

NOPD staffing, raises are focus of council meeting

With a shrunken police force, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison went before the City Council Friday to discuss the budget proposed for his department in 2015.

"Year to date, we've lost 103 officers and have hired a total of 51 recruits and six re-instatements,” said Harrison.

Currently, there are 1,144 officers, and the goal is to have 1,204 by the end of next year.

The nearly $130 million budget that Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants the council to approve for the NOPD includes money for a five percent pay raise for police officers, but leaders of police unions showed up for the meeting to blast that amount. They want to see the 20 percent that the city's Civil Service Commission has recommended.

"Officers aren't coming here and officers are leaving because they can't afford to work here any longer, it's that simple,” said Eric Hessler, an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans.

"Ten percent in 2015, five percent in 2016, and five percent, that would be a start,” said Jim Gallagher of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"The pay raise is not just about officers wanting more money, they want more officers, and the way to do that is with a more robust pay raise,” said Simon Hargrove of the Black Organization of Police.

Councilwoman Stacy Head said pension costs account for a chunk of the budget.

"If benefits are increased to a point where it overburdens the city's fisc [fiscal picture], it will, in fact, impact our ability to pay the men and women more money today,” she said.

The Landrieu Administration said it's important that voters statewide approve a constitutional amendment appearing on Tuesday's ballot that would give the city authority to ask voters if they want to increase the millage cap on a property tax dedicated to New Orleans police and fire services.

"Because it's going to enable us to have the conversation about how we get to 1,600 officers and how we pay as competitive wages as we would like to pay,” said City Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, who is also the administration's chief administrative officer.

Harrison said he will bring in a consultant next year to assess the department's resources, including staffing and personnel. Harrison also wants more community policing as part of his efforts to rebuild trust between police and the public.

"Relationships have been tarnished, but we're in the process of fixing that," he said. "We want to change the culture of the police department. ...Community engagement and community policing is not the absence of enforcement - and we want to be clear about that with the officers and clear about that with the community - not the absence of enforcement, but the approach is not tough on the people, it's tough on the problem.”

By law, the council must approve a balanced budget for all of city government by Dec. 1.

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