NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On Wednesday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu addressed residents' concerns about violent crime and a spiking murder rate across the city by unveiling a long-term plan to get more officers on the force, and to keep the officers already on staff from leaving.
"Crime is up in the city, and it is unacceptable," Landrieu said. "We are asking the city Civil Service and the City Council to approve a new pay plan and classification structure that includes increasing pay across the board for all police officers, creating a new detective career track that allows detectives to advance and grow in seniority without having to leave the vital detective position."
If approved, the plan will increase pay for all officers by 10 percent, even for recruits joining the force. The proposal also calls for 300 new take-home units for officers living within the city and equipping officers with 300 hundred new long-barreled guns.
The plan would also restructure pay grades and give detectives more incentive to stay. Currently, the pay scale is structured so that most NOPD detectives make the same salary as traffic officers based on experience.
Also as of right now, if a detective wanted to advance within the department, he or she would have to transfer to another unit.
"We're creating a career track specifically for detectives so that they can advance in seniority and compensation without diverting from their crucial works specifically as detectives," NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
"By [seeking promotions], they may be supervising an accident scene as opposed to homicide, which is something they were trained to do," Police Association of New Orleans President Mike Glasser said. "Without a viable career path, people get discouraged and leave and go somewhere where they can get one."
Glasser introduced the new pay plan to the mayor's administration and the Civil Service Commission.
He called NOPD's attrition rate "terrible," and said the department loses a little more than 10 officers a month on average.
"The department is probably 30-35 understaffed across the board, but homicide is 50 percent understaffed," Glasser said. "[Officers] would leave for other venues and sometimes even take a pay cut just for the potential that exists in other organizations. That's what we're trying to do today is create potential within this organization and make them want to come and make them want to stay more importantly."
Glasser believes the new incentive will provide officers with a competitive salary while addressing the city's crime problem.
"If we can stop 30 or 40 cops from leaving that were going to, and we can hire an additional 30 or 40 cops that weren't going to come before, that can make a dramatic difference in a short order, as soon as six months it can make a big difference," Glasser said. "I think it will make a dramatic difference in the attrition and application process, and that is our number one problem in servicing the public."
The proposal will cost $9 million to $10 million a year. Landrieu said the city will initially pay for the increase with the sale of city assets, and in later years, money saved by the agreement over payments toward the firefighters pension will pay for the salary increase.
"I think it's important for everyone to know that this is not going to be a matter of a new tax. We're taking our revenues that we are making because we are improving economically, and we're putting it where we most need it and we can most see improvements for our city," Councilwoman Susan Guidry said.
"If you want the people you want, you've got to compensate them along with other knowledge professions," said LSU Health Criminologist Peter Scharf.
Scharf applauded the proposal and said NOPD can't build its manpower because officers are leaving the department at an alarming rate, which puts a strain on the entire system.
"The cost of policing is going to occur one way or another. Either they're going to occur through salaries paid, through liability or through 96 murders in half a year. Take your pick. What's the bargain?" Scharf asked.
Scharf also believes for NOPD to compete with other departments it must recruit more millennials and upgrade the department into the 21st century. With more money, Scharf said that increases the likelihood of more qualified candidates.
"You want a hybrid of people skills, technology, language and culture," he said. "You have to pay for that. If you don't have that, you're going to pay for it in another way - high murder, high liability."