NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A severe manpower shortage means some New Orleans police officers will not be able to take time off this Carnival season. And while the Fraternal Order of Police takes issue with the sudden policy change, Chief Michael Harrison says the bottom line is public safety comes first.
With the 2015 Carnival season just weeks away, Harrison says he knew he had to make a tough management decision to make sure the streets are secure when parades start rolling.
"Right now we're at a position where we need to be all hands on deck," Harrison says. "When I said public safety was my top priority, it was not just my words, but the words of all police officers, that public safety is our top priority."
He recently implemented a policy change that has the Fraternal Order of Police voicing concern.
Donovan Livicarri, an FOP attorney says, "This year there's apparently been a policy change and the department has decided that they're not going to allow anyone to use their vacation time or switch their days off in order to facilitate their participation in a Mardi Gras parade."
Harrison says,"That was an acceptable practice when we had 1,600 officers, but we're just not there right now."
He says he overturned one request for time off a few weeks ago and denied two others who assumed they could take vacation to ride in parades. Livicarri says the officers, one of them a krewe captain, deserved more notice.
"Common courtesy would say when you have situations where people invest thousands of dollars in this type of event, you would give them as much notice as possible," Livicarri says. "It's just one night. If the whole system's going to fall apart because of one person missing one night, then I think the problems are bigger than what we suspected."
Harrison says he understands the frustration, but says with the NOPD leaning on other police departments to help keep the city safe during Carnival, it's a change that has to be implemented.
"And so while we're inviting outsiders and guests to come into our home and help us, it would be very unfair for us to have our officers out having a good time in a parade, while we're inviting guests to help provide us that safety," Harrison says.
The NOPD has called in help from Louisiana State Police, the St. John Parish Sheriff's Office, the Department of Corrections and even college campus police departments.
Right now, the NOPD has more than 1,100 commissioned officers, and all are expected to work during the 12 days of Carnival.