By Danae Columbus
July 1, 2021
It will take a lot more than worn-out platitudes to make New Orleanians feel safe in their homes, cars and neighborhoods.
While the three-pronged effort Mayor Cantrell presented earlier this week that focuses on prevention, apprehension and intervention might sound good, the results are disappointing.
“Crime is up in every category,” said Raphael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “Other than that everything in New Orleans is fine.”
Although Mayor Cantrell claims that New Orleans is a model in responding to the increase in violent crime, the numbers tell another story.
In fresh statistics from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, homicides are up 30 percent from January 1 through June 30, 2020 to the same period in 2021. When 2019 is added into the comparison, homicides are up an amazing 72 percent.
Shootings have risen 110 percent since 2019. Carjackings are up 180 percent during the last two years.
Mayor Cantrell’s program includes investing in youth, families, and community leaders; arresting those who commit violent crimes and supporting development programs to reduce recidivism. She touted 19 programs and offices her administration has created to help reduce crime through “holistic methods.”
Cantrell unsuccessfully tries to pass off our recent crime epidemic on the Covid pandemic. “When the Mayor and other elected officials say the national pandemic phenomenon is the cause, they are basically dismissing the alarming spike in crime,” Goyeneche explained. “While they try to say nothing can be done, we believe there is something we can do. These spikes are happening in every neighborhood.”
Goyeneche says the real problem is that the NOPD lacks the resources to get the job done. He places the blame squarely on the backs of New Orleans elected officials. “Politicians are responsible for giving the NOPD what they need to do their job. The spike has come during a period of historically low manpower. Calls for service have increased. Something must to be done now.”
Goyeneche believes the answer rests with prioritizing both recruitment and retention. “Last year 96 officers left the force. Through mid-June 2021, we’ve already lost 80 officers.” The number of experienced NOPD officers has also decreased. “With six months in the academy and six months of field training, we have rookies replacing officers with 15, 20 or 25 years of experience. We need to hire more officers and slow down attrition so our younger officers can gain experience over time.”
Attrition can be reduced in part by offering pay raises. “We are lagging behind in pay in comparison to other Southeast Louisiana agencies.” New Orleans instituted a pay raise several years ago. By not continuing to give raises, other cities passed New Orleans by.
“When you phase in a pay raise over three or four years, officers who are pension eligible, or going some place else for more money, stay because their pensions can be recomputed with the higher salaries,” explained Goyeneche. It’s also provides a chance for experienced officers to mentor young officers.
“If all we do is attack one end of the spectrum it’s like pouring water into a bucket with a hole. It’s working against ourselves. We need to patch the hole,” he said.
A pay raise is also a good way to attract new candidates for the academy. Current NOPD officers are the best recruiters. People who are thinking about working for the NOPD often call someone currently on the force.
“It’s important to make the workforce happy. We should invest in them the same way we invest in flood protection and drainage,” Goyeneche explained.
He also believes in lateral transfers. NOPD policy requires that any officer transferring from another agency complete the academy and field training. Officers’ salaries are reduced during the training process. Jefferson Parish offers an abbreviated training program that get lateral transferees in the streets quicker.
“We are losing veteran officers who want to transfer laterally to the NOPD because of the policy. Eliminating the lateral transfer requirements is a quick fix to replenish the number of officers needed. If we could get 25 additional officers a year, that would be a significant boost to recruitment efforts,” Goyeneche explained.
New Orleans police officers feel beaten down. Morale is low. Many officers believe they are not being supported by the court system. The consent decree has created a force that is reactive rather than proactive. Many of the same criminals get arrested over and over again. Yet NOPD officers- what few there are- still work hard every day to try and keep the citizens safe.
Higher pay, better recruitment and retention are the tools needed to attack the New Orleans crime wave.
“If tourists think New Orleans isn’t safe they won’t come here. People who do live here will move away and erode the tax base. It’s a cascading effect which will impact our quality of life,” Goyeneche concluded.