NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A lot more people seem to be interested in wearing the NOPD badge.
The New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation says the number of applications is up significantly, as are visits to www.joinnopd.org after its ad campaign began, and after the recent relaxation of the college education requirement for applicants.
Serious crime is no stranger to the streets of New Orleans, and the slim ranks of the NOPD are noticeable, according those who monitor crime.
"Definitely the manpower shortage has created a hardship for the city," said Tamara Jackson, executive director of the anti-crime group Silence Is Violence.
The Police and Justice Foundation is working to increase the ranks of the NOPD with a television, radio and online campaign.
"You could get frustrated and point fingers, or you could get behind the badge," said one of the ads that ran during the Oscars broadcast.
The ad campaign began earlier this year and recently a requirement that applicants have 60 college credit hours was removed. Police Superintendent Michael Harrison called it an impediment to hiring last year.
Numbers requested from the Police and Justice Foundation show that in 2014, there were 3,000 applications received. In January of this year, 300 applications were received, and so far, more than 600 applications have been received for February.
There was a 45 percent increase in daily website visits following the launch of the campaigns and the relaxation of the education requirement, according to the police support organization.
"Since the launch of that campaign during Super Bowl we've seen an increase in visits to the website of 14,000. Now this, while we'd like to take all the credit because of advertising, this also coincides with the changes in the education requirement," said Sandy Shilstone, chairwoman of the Police and Justice Foundation's recruitment committee.
"I think the 60-credit-hour standard was a bit much for individuals seeking to join the police department," said Jackson.
She believes the citizenry and police response time have suffered as the NOPD struggles to build its ranks.
"The citizens are waiting, also the intensity of the work load, you have homicides that happen frequently, which means the limitations of officers, those homicide detectives are working more to solve crimes, and it's a strain," said Jackson.
Like the police chief, the Police and Justice Foundation does not believe that relaxing the college credit requirement will result in lower standards for police officers.
"The reason the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation is very comfortable with this is because while we dropped the hours for education, the amount of hours needed for training have remained the same and also the tests have remained the same,"Shilstone said.
She added that a serious background check also remains part of the hiring process.
Jackson said in time it will be clear whether the change is working.
"Now we would have to see how that looks once they complete the training without the college hours and they're actually working on the street," said Jackson.
Shilstone said she is confident they are on track to have 150 new police officers hired this year.
For more information on the recruitment effort, visit the Police and Justice Foundation's website at www.nopjf.org.