The police have not lost funding, but many large departments are downsizing

During the 2020 George Floyd protests, many people called for an end to funding for traditional police. It didn’t happen, for the most part. But nearly three years later, some police departments are still downsizing.

A new criminological study of 14 major police departments has found that most have seen an “excessive” loss of sworn, full-time officers since 2020, a trend confirmed in major city agencies such as the New Orleans Police Department.

In 2010, the NOPD employed about 1,500 officers; a decade later it was about 1,200. As of 2020, the department’s headcount has dropped another 20% to 944. Despite a doubling of recruiting efforts, the department continues to shrink.

“We’re seeing a situation where the department has already lost nearly 20 officers this year,” says Jeff Asher, a public safety consultant who tracks city police staffing for the New Orleans City Council. “It really affects everything. You can see response times have dropped from an average of 50 minutes for any type of call in 2019 to over two and a half hours last year. And so far this year it is a little worse. .”

Even New Orleans permanent residents say they can see the difference.

“Every day at 4:00 pm I leave the street,” says Dolores Montgomery, a shuttle driver. She says she was especially shocked by the recent murder of another taxi driver, as well as her own experience last year when she saw a couple running after a stolen car at a gas station in broad daylight.

“It’s just one thing after another and you just sit there with your mouth open,” she says. “The criminals know that there are few officers on the street! They know it!”

New Orleans, once considered one of the deadliest cities in the 1990s and late 2000s, likely regained the dubious title of having the highest per capita homicide rate of any city of over 250,000 last year.

Rank-and-file officers say that due to a shortage of personnel, they are less able to be present in crime centers.

“We’re dealing with a police department of 1,600 people run by 900 officers,” says Capt. Mike Glasser. veteran of the New Orleans Police Department who is also the president of the New Orleans Police Association (PANO).

Glasser blames the cuts on officers’ mistrust of leadership, as well as phased financial incentives that could lead to early retirement of officers. There was also intense pressure from other departments to recruit the NOPD for quieter jobs in the suburbs. Whatever the reasons, Glasser says it’s time to accept certain realities.

New Orleans Police Department tries to get rid of less risky duties

“We never actually retooled the department,” says Glasser. “There are some things that we should probably cut back on — or temporarily eliminate — to basically deal with the problem of crime.”

One thing the NOPD is trying to avoid is less dangerous police duties, such as driving to the scene of car accidents without injury.

“Citizens are still calling 911, their calls are still being diverted. However, they are sent to our agents,” says Ethan Cherami, founder of On Scene Services (OSS). It is staffed by unarmed former police officers who travel to shipwreck sites to collect information and provide reports.

“Our agents respond in a timely and efficient manner so everyone can go about their business,” Cherami says. The OSS has had two vehicles that have serviced accidents in New Orleans for the past five years, and with a worsening officer shortage, the city has just signed an extended contract for seven OSS vehicles — enough, Cherami calculates, to free up the equivalent of 15 full-time employees. officers for other duties.

“You’re still going to see alternative policing move from guys with guns to civilians responding to these non-violent calls to service,” Cherami says.

And yet, the city is moving slowly. Last year, the NOPD pledged to hire civilians for 50 new positions to perform traditional police functions such as fingerprinting and investigating property crimes. There were more than enough qualified applicants, but so far the department has announced only three admissions.

In an email to NPR, NOPD mentioned the “many steps” involved in hiring civilians, but reaffirmed “how important it is to hire both authorized and professional staff.”

The department did not provide anyone for interviews, citing staffing shortages.

Another factor that may complicate this process is political upheaval. There have been personnel changes in the department in recent months, and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell may face a recall election.

Some resistance to civility may also come from the police themselves. ANSP President Mike Glasser says the best solution to the officer shortage is to bring investigations under one roof, not just hire more civilians.

The problem with hired civilians, he says, is that they can only do the job for which they were hired. If the department suddenly needs additional staff, say, to contain the riots during Mardi Gras, they will not be able to help.

“Should we civilize certain things? Probably yes, we should. Other things, I must caution, this is not a long-term, enduring philosophy,” says Glasser.

Nationwide, more and more police officers are expressing interest in moving some of their work to the civilian level. The LAPD’s union of police officers, the LAPD Defense League, recently proposed that civilians respond to more non-violent 911 calls, such as welfare checks and high-profile parties.

But, like New Orleans, cities that have pledged to move in that direction are having trouble keeping up with their commitments—Baltimore’s police force, for example. Last year, the department said it would hire civilian investigators; a year later, their training has yet to begin.

Story edited by Makita Peters.

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