NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Police Superintendent Michael Harrison appeared before the City Council Tuesday (Nov. 13) to discuss the 2019 budget Mayor Latoya Cantrell has proposed for his department.
With overtime expenses a growing concern, the mayor’s administration hopes to spread the cost burden around.
The proposed budget for the police department includes $8.1 million in additional funding and, among other things, pays for 50 more officers.
"I’m happy with this budget. I think it gives us exactly what we need,” said Harrison, answering questions from reporters.
The chief told council members his department currently has 1,223 officers. That number includes 33 new recruits who only recently began training.
"What is your optimum number for a police force that we need to try to attain?" asked City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.
Harrison answered by referring to a consultant’s analysis of NOPD staffing.
"The number that this department would need to function to meet the goal of a seven-minute response in emergency calls would be between 1,385 and 1,485, and so that was an estimation by our staffing consultant. I would say that I concur with those findings that, you know, in 2010 we were above 1,500. We did not have the technology then, and we did not have the smart initiatives that we have now,” Harrison said.
Overtime expenses have prompted much discussion in recent years.
"We’re monitoring who works it, who needs to work it, because different people make different amounts of money, so it’s very, very mission-specific and it’s very skill set-specific,” Harrison said.
Cantrell’s administration believes it’s time to get more help paying for overtime expenses from special event sponsors.
"Our administration probably more than normal is going to be a little bit more aggressive with our promoters and those who establish a lot of these special events in asking them to bear a significant burden of the overtime cost that the city is, has been paying in the past,” said Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano.
"My district probably has the most special events than any other district, and there is a burden associated with it on multiple levels, and I will back you up a hundred percent,” said Palmer, whose council district includes the French Quarter.
Harrison also anticipates beefing up the traffic division and increasing traffic enforcement as the mayor proposes getting rid of 20 of the city’s traffic cameras.
"Because of attrition and promotions, [the traffic division] has been diminished in its capacity, but right now in the immediacy I can use some of the overtime hours that’s assigned to the traffic unit to enhance enforcement,” he said.
Another of Harrison’s goals is to have minor traffic accidents managed by a third-party vendor.
Harrison said he plans to continue field deployment strategies that have helped to reduce violent crime. According to his presentation to the council, murders, shootings and armed robberies are down year-to-date.
The city’s district attorney also made a presentation about funding for his office for the new year.
“We are without question the most poorly funded district attorney’s office in the state relative to this city’s size, crime rate and resulting work load,” said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
He said retention of prosecutors is difficult given the funds his office has, and even with the mayor’s new budget proposal for his office, more money is needed.
"I want to thank the mayor of the city of New Orleans because for the first time in over two years we have received an increase in the budget allocation presented to this council. The budget today, however, is the same proposal that we have received from the City Council in 2016,” Cannizzaro said.