Mayoral candidates Latoya Cantrell and Desiree Charbonnet each believe they are best suited to free the city from the tight grip of crime.
And both have said they would conduct a national search for a police superintendent, but current Police Chief Michael Harrison would be able to apply.
During lengthy one-on-one interviews with Cantrell and Charbonnet, FOX 8's Sabrina Wilson asked the candidates if they would set crime reduction benchmarks as mayor to hold their police superintendent accountable and what that might look like.
"I just want to make sure I'm finding the very best person for the citizens of this city," Charbonnet said. "In terms of the benchmarks, we are going to have to set reasonable benchmarks that show us a reduction in not only the violent crime, but in also quality of life and petty crimes as well, because sometimes those breed higher-level crimes. But the benchmarks, I'd have to sit down with my chief, whether it be Mr. Harrison or someone else, to determine what are reasonable benchmarks. But the key in this situation is that I am going to let him do his job, or her job just in the event it's a woman. I don't believe it's the mayor's responsibility to attempt to run the police department. The mayor has enough to do. If you've picked the right person, you let that person do their job, benchmarks, goals absolutely. People need to start seeing results in a rather quick fashion, but certainly there's so much more that goes into crime fighting other than just the police department," Charbonnet said.
Cantrell pointed to how former Mayor Marc Morial's Police Superintendent Richard Pennington had stated goals and benchmarks.
"One of the things that I know worked very well, being in the trenches, working with the firm of Linder and Associates when they were hired by Marc Morial to lead the city in this effort to work, to find Pennington in that search, and as a result of that it was coming up with clear criteria and goals that the chief would be held accountable to, real measurements that would lead for better accountability, and one was crime reduction, and the chief [Pennington] definitely said, hey, he was up to those standards. It was embedded in his contract, and I think that is definitely the approach that I would take making it embedded in our next chief, in our chief's contract, and therefore being able to hold the chief accountable to those goals, giving our chief also the autonomy to do his or her job I think it's important as well. But holding the chief accountable tied to measurements outlined in that contract will be a priority, and I think it's a great next step for us to have a safer city. It worked before, and I have no reason to believe it will not work for us in the future."
Cantrell also said her chief would have leeway in how he fights the crime problem.
"Giving our chief also the autonomy to do his or her job I think it's important as well, but holding the chief accountable tied to measurements, outlined in that contract will be a priority and I think it's a great next step for us to have a safer city, it worked before and I have no reason to believe it will not work for us in the future," Cantrell said.
Even with pay hikes, the NOPD said the department has 1167 officers, including police recruits. FOX 8 asked the candidates specifically how they would succeed in reaching their hiring goals.
"Well, one is by 2018 we're expected to be from underneath the consent decree which will give the city of New Orleans greater flexibility for increasing not only the size of the classes, but the frequency of the classes," Cantrell said. "And I think that that will be a great next step for us as well, being able to ramp up how many classes we can have annually. In addition to that, I believe that ensuring that the overall morale of our department is, we focus on it as a priority because it's easier to sell your organization and your department when the morale of your officers, when your people are healthy, and so it has been very hard for us to hire up as it has been nationally, so it's not an easy deal, but it's something that we can accomplish, I think, if we focus on not only better recruitment strategies. One example if you currently take the test and you do not pass, whether it's three points whatever, you have to wait six months before you can retake the test. Well, that's where I would look immediately to kind of lessening the time frame that you would have to wait to retake the exam. It's little tweaks like that that can be made on the front end that I believe will have an impact, an ultimate impact on our recruitment efforts and will yield us greater response and also the officers that come through."
Charbonnet has said she hopes to hire 500 officers over five years.
"It is going to be a challenge. There is no question about that, but that is why I'm asking for this job, and that's why the public believes in me because they think I meet these challenges. We're going to have to retain who we have, that's crucial, we've got to keep the ladies and men that we have employed. The mayor's new pay raise I believe will help with that, we're going to have to aggressively recruit," said Charbonnet.
Charbonnet would also like a housing incentive that would help with the city's blight issues.
"We have a blight problem in this city, I'd like to start a program that allows us to use the blight as an enhancement, or an encouragement to the new officers that come here, maybe offer them a soft second, let them renovate those properties. They're committed, they're a part of the neighborhood, a policeman or a policewoman in your neighborhood now and with those types of programs you are committed to staying for a certain number of years, so that's another way to retain them once we get them," said Charbonnet.
To watch the full FOX 8 interviews with the candidates on myriad topics go to the FOX 8 News app.