Making our city safe has been and will continue to be my No. 1 priority. That's not just campaign rhetoric — reducing crime is what I think about every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed and plug in my iPhone. This past weekend at Essence [Festival], we again brought together mothers who have buried a child lost to gun violence. The pain never goes away, but together in a tearful room, we find solace and reaffirm our commitment to end the drumbeat of death and violence that plagues our city. This fight is something that is very personal to me.
Over the last 20 years New Orleans has lost over 4,000 people to murder. For decades our murder rate has been six to eight times the national average. In fact, today, murder and violent crime rates are down over 60 percent from their historic peak in the 1990s. We are nowhere near any all-time highs. And even on our best day, in 1999, the murder rate was still six times the national average and double on violent crime.
Still, it is important to note our progress. With guidance from former police chiefs and expert criminologists, mothers, neighborhood leaders and young people "in the life," for the last seven years, we have pursued a deliberate and aggressive push against violent criminals, while we also sought to reinstall trust in a police department reeling from the Danziger [Bridge] and Henry Glover incidents. The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) we inherited was essentially bankrupt and under federal investigation. Together, we have reformed and restructured NOPD, increased the NOPD budget by 25 percent, aggressively pursued violent criminals, reformed the criminal justice system and launched NOLA For Life, a comprehensive murder reduction strategy.
Since 2010, we've launched 13 new NOPD recruit classes with a total of 334 recruits. We've also provided NOPD a 15 percent pay raise across the board to improve recruitment and officer retention, plus an additional special pay raise of 5 percent to NOPD homicide detectives. We've reduced barriers to employment and completely remade the recruitment and hiring process, getting better each day. We are underway with over $40 million in investments in overtime for our officers, new security cameras, license plate readers and funds to make sure every officer in Orleans Parish has a take-home car, which will help our deployment. We've modernized the department, taken officers from behind desks and added dozens of civilians to free up officers to fight crime. And earlier this week, we announced a new proposed pay plan that will address long-standing pay disparities between the ranks and provide better career tracks to help improve retention and recruitment further.
NOPD also is one of the most open and transparent [police departments] in the country, with body-worn cameras and new constitutional policies, helping bridge the police-community divide. All of this will continue to improve our efforts to grow and improve the NOPD. But we will never fix the problem if we believe that police manpower is somehow responsible for the level of violence in this city.
Law enforcement can't do it alone, so the NOLA For Life plan also focuses on prevention and gets at the root of the problem. We've launched Ceasefire New Orleans to focus on interrupting violence by mediating neighborhood beefs and also a wildly successful midnight basketball program, which on Saturday nights has brought in off the streets over 8,000 young people and spectators. Our Health Department is working with the Children's Bureau and other local partners, including our schools, to connect high-risk kids to caseworkers and counseling that can help them work through their often serious problems. We've focused on reforming the criminal justice system writ large — rightsizing the jail by instituting pretrial services, issuing summonses in lieu of making arrests and reducing barriers to re-entering society from prison. And we've focused on providing career pathways and new job opportunities for our young black men.
Our work is beginning to show some results. Confidence in the police department is up. Response times are trending down. Our Multi-Agency Gang Unit has carried out aggressive enforcement policies to get 134 indictments from 15 different violent gangs and groups. NOLA For Life initiatives have helped over 32,000 New Orleanians get assistance, whether it is finding a job or returning home after being released from prison.
Ultimately, one of the greatest lessons I learned as your mayor is that after so many decades of violence and dysfunction, old patterns of behavior are hard to break no matter how much you throw at them. You will have both short-term success and setbacks. Though we have come a long way in seven years, crime remains our city's toughest challenge. But now is not the time to turn back. We must keep pushing forward. We took the long view and are fixing the foundation. You see, reducing violence requires fixing all of the institutions that allow violence to flourish.
That's why you cannot talk about the fight against crime without talking about the city budget, criminal justice reform, health care, housing, transit and jobs. Making the city safe is about more than "getting tough." It is about more than police, prisons and guns. It is about creating more jobs with better wages and pathways to prosperity for our young men. It is about improving schools, investing in recreation, investing in prevention, mental health and substance abuse. It is about fighting the opioid epidemic. It is about personal responsibility. It is about continuing to build trust with the community so we can solve more crimes. That's how we will turn this around. When we get this right, the police and community become one, a united front against violent criminals.
I ran in 2010 on a platform of making New Orleans a better place to live, work and visit. "I know what to do and how to do it," said the television ads. By large measure, we have been successful — rebuilding the city, cleaning up corruption, balancing the city's budget and going from a deficit to a surplus, reducing blight, improving recreation, rebuilding our roads and more. But no one is happy with where we are on reducing the level of violence in this city, especially me. Despite our successes, there is no doubt crime remains this community's biggest challenge. That's why it's important, now more than ever, to continue to roll up our sleeves and work together. I can commit to you that it'll continue to be my No. 1 priority between now and May 2018.