Former NOPD chief critical of new deployment plan, says department needs to be more proactive

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 10:44 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As the New Orleans Police Department restructures and prepares to deploy administrative officers and detectives onto the streets this weekend, one former NOPD chief said the move “further puts citizens at the back of the line of having their problems resolved.”

On Thursday, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson announced at least 75 commissioned administrative officers and detectives would be redeployed, on a part-time basis, to patrol duties. With around 900 officers left, NOPD faces a massive manpower crisis that has led to delayed response times.

Ferguson also announced NOPD would be hiring between 50 and 75 civilians to respond to calls for service when a police officer isn’t needed.

“This is a daunting task,” Ferguson said. “We have some serious challenges that we are facing as a profession, not necessarily as a department, but as a profession.”

But former NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas said the ongoing issues with retention and recruitment have been brewing for some time.

“Removing people from administrative jobs is the result of not hiring civilians five years ago to do that kind of work,” Serpas said. “I’ve been clear on this for a long time: Shaun has not been given the political or financial support to make recruiting and retention the number one issue of this department for the last five years.”

“Removing detectives from investigations further puts citizens at the back of the line of having their problems resolved. I do not believe that Chief Ferguson sees this as the right thing to do for the city, but it’s the only thing the city has given him left to do.”

MORE: NOPD putting more officers on patrol, hiring civilians for non-emergencies

Serpas said NOPD has arrived at the point where it is no longer practicing proactive policing, instead rushing to calls for service. While reassigning administrative officers and detectives may put boots on the ground and decrease response times in the short term, he said, in the long run it will take proactive components like designated task forces targeting specific violent offenders to crack down on crime.

“I believe Shaun Ferguson is a crime fighter. I think he understands and knows what to do to fight crime,” Serpas said. “But by signaling that the most important thing is reducing calls for service response, which is important, it also signals that we’re going to be just really good at being late. Calls for service means somebody’s already been victimized.”

Mike Glasser, President of the Police Association of New Orleans, said the increase in civilianization will likely reduce response times, but he questions how far the department can go when it comes to assigning certain calls or events to civilians.

“There are things civilians can do, there’s no question that that can be done,” Glasser said. “There are also some places where we should do that. But you have to be careful and be judicious in what those places are. We can cut back on some of the non-essential issues, but you have to be careful of going too far.”

Glasser said he is encouraged the department is making strides when it comes to retention, pointing to the overhaul of leadership at the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB), the administration’s proposed pay package for officers and recruits, and needed reforms to the promotional system.

He said these moves will stymie some attrition at the department, but the focus now needs to be on recruiting.

“We’re 500 officers short from where we should be, and replacing them with civilians can only go so far,” Glasser said. “There’s a law of diminishing returns on that. The bottom line is we need to retain and hire more police.”

Glasser also acknowledged the department has slipped when it comes to proactive policing, but he said there just aren’t enough bodies.

“The better we are at policing, the less policing we’ll have to do,” he said. “We would like to be proactive in our work because the more proactive we are, the safer the community is and the less actual calls for service we’ll have.”

Council President Helena Moreno came out in support of the move to bring more civilians into the NOPD fold, saying:

“I am encouraged to hear Chief Ferguson’s plans to follow on the Council’s calls to add more civilian positions to the NOPD. We have been insisting on this for quite some time. Boosting the civilian workforce within police departments is becoming a best practice across the country for situations that do not require a commissioned police officer to respond. This will then free up commissioned officers to allow for improved deployment to respond to urgent calls for service.”

An analysis by the Council’s data consultants shows that if civilian investigators responded to just ten incident types that should be eligible for civilianization, at least 70,000 manpower hours by regular NOPD officers would be saved. That equates to adding almost 34 more officers available for more critical responses.”

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