NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The New Orleans Police Department began a new recruiting class this week, but in spite of a stepped-up training program, it's having a tough time meeting short- and long-term hiring goals.
As it struggles to meet those goals, the murder rate is spiking and remains one of the worst in the nation.
Recruit classes are authorized to include 40 men and women, but the class that began this week includes just 34 trainees, fewer than what is allowed by a federal judge who oversees a consent decree designed to reform the NOPD.
"Sometimes looking for that best candidate, we have to be particular about who we accept," said NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison.
The city doubled the number of training classes to try and eventually build the department to 1,600 officers. But this year under that schedule, the NOPD will likely add just 130 officers, twenty officers short of a short-term hiring goal of 1,200 men and women.
"The problem is attrition is very close to the number of recruits every year," said LSU Health criminologist Peter Sharf.
The department had two deaths in the past year and terminated twice as many officers as last year, making it difficult to reach hiring goals.
"Sometimes it's candidates washing out at certain phases of the pipeline process," said Harrison.
Some also worry that consent decree oversight could be steering qualified candidates elsewhere.
"We are in a very competitive marketplace - and scrutiny plus violence - they may have other employment options," said Sharf.
And while the department struggles to meet hiring goals, the city's murder rate soars to one of it's highest rates in years.
"Something was supposed to happen that didn't happen, and manpower is an issue," said Sharf.
For the first time in four years, the city's murder rate is moving up.
"We're paying for this in the murder rate...we are at 142 now, will finish at 164 at that rate, which makes us number four in the U.S.," said Sharf.
Criminal justice experts say more manpower would help.
"The question is could you reduce murders through increased police capacity, and the research suggests that would help," said Sharf.
Sharf said the types of murders we have now are occurring in areas that are often poorly patrolled, and he said that needs to change. While Sharf questions the value of programs like Nola for Life, which uses mentors to help lower the murder rate, Chief Harrison defends it, saying the program has worked in the past, and the recent uptick is an anomaly.
He said the department will keep working to attract, and retain as many qualified officers as they can.