With an aggressive recruitment campaign underway to bolster its ranks, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) now has too many qualified applicants to fit in academy classrooms. NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison told the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee Oct. 22 that the current federal consent decree allows the department to train no more than 30 recruits at a time.
"Logistically we probably could handle 40 to 50 per class," Harrison said. "The space is small, and at some point we would probably need to look for another facility."
Council President Stacy Head said that having more qualified recruits than the court-ordered limit is a "great problem to have." Head expressed hope the number could be expanded. Harrison assured the council that expanding that number would come at no detriment to the quality of the training the recruits would receive.
Harrison said the NOPD is poised to hire three new recruit classes this year and 150 new recruits in 2015. Fifty-nine new recruits have been hired so far this year.
Melanie Talia, chief executive officer of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, said getting up to date with "antiquated" technology and practices has been a huge part of the increase in recruits. Until recently, applications had to be filled out by hand and delivered by U.S. Postal Service. The application process moved online this year.
In addition to installing a 5 percent pay increase departmentwide, the NOPD also launched an online marketing campaign, held recruitment and application events at local high schools and reallocated overtime to handle an increase in background investigations. It also removed certain barriers to joining the force, such as the requirement that all recruits live within Orleans Parish.
RecruitmentSTAT, the latest in the department's series of statistically focused meetings, will report to Harrison every other week.
The improved stats failed to impress James Gallagher of the Fraternal Order of Police, however. Gallagher emphasized the importance of retention, a measure that Sandy Shilstone of the Police and Justice Foundation said was next on the department's agenda.
"We've lost close to 100 police officers in 2014," Gallagher told the council. "If we hire 150 police every year, and 80 percent of those complete the process, and we lose 110, we've gained 10 police officers. If we need 400, it will take us 40 years to accomplish that goal. ... We're going to need more than a 5 percent raise to accomplish that."