Thursday, June 22, 2006

Just Open the Books

Something in today's paper made me think about an exchange from one of the mayoral debates (an exchange that many seemed to miss). When Landrieu called for a forensic audit of the city's finances, Nagin said that we couldn't afford to wait for the results of an audit. We needed to come up a plan right away.

At first I expected the mayor to say that we couldn't afford the expense, but that would have been somewhat out of character. While either argument might have applied to an outside audit, neither would have applied to merely opening the city's financial records (including payroll*) to public inspection. In addition to any other merits, doing so could answer some obvious questions. I don't want to rehash any urban legends (fear of doing so has kept me from bringing it up for months), but there seem to be far fewer police officers on patrol than the Katrina-related loss of personnel could explain. Now that the New York Times is pointing out that:
The city's police department is close to its pre-hurricane size, protecting a population that is less than half of what it was before the storm.

people are bound to ask where the police are. That's not a matter of perception, it's a matter of empirical observation. Every morning on the way to work I see two resource officers outside of McMain Sr. High; I rarely see two more during the course of the entire day--I've started looking.

I've come up with various theories about this, most involve either the loss of police officers being greater than the city admitted or a lack of police cars. Acknowledging either, during the campaign, would have involved acknowledging the extent of the city's budget crisis--assuming that either is the case. I suppose it's even possible that the city has increased its quota of undercover cops. That would make more sense than anything the city's told us. Of course, the city hasn't told us anything and the press hasn't bothered to ask. If there ends up being a perfectly reasonable explanation, I won't be the least bit embarrassed for having asked--some people should be embarrassed for not.

Though the RTA's budget is separate from the city government's, we could probably learn quite a lot from opening up its books as well. This has nothing to do with the dispute between the chairman and the RTA board; after three recent newspaper articles, I have no idea who's right in that matter. As a matter of fact, I can't tell whether the outside consultants are recommending a $25,000 raise for a top official or creating a new $125,000 position--it would depend on whether the deputy general manager position is retained. Either way, it is being recommended in the face of massive layoffs.

*Publicizing city payroll would not involve any violation of personal privacy. The city pay is a matter of public record, though an individual's job classification is not. It would merely be a matter of showing how much staff each department had and then giving the breakdown for each office by job classification.

Comments:
I'll have to say that I do routinely see police in my daily commute from Algiers to Uptown. Also in Algiers.....especially on DeGaulle during evening rush hour. Holding up traffic while they write tickets for expired brake tags. Yes, really.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Perhaps a reporter could ask Riley "How many FULL-TIME Police doing daily patrols on the streets do you have?"

Get him on the record if nothing else.
 
OK, I opened a f*****g blogger account just to post a comment to this post. Yeesh. Anyway, I am wondering about this: How many of our police force has been in areas where the rest of us now NEVER go to, like N.O. East, Lakeview, flooded parts of Gentilly? Those areas don't have many people living there, but in many ways it is becoming obvious that crime is occurring there. It was ridiculous for The Powers That Be to assume that the NOPD could handle the returned population, the visitors, the opportunistic who have descended on us, and the barren wasteland that used to be parts of this city. This is an unprecedented situation and the National Guard should have never left.
 
Hell, I worked on Capitol Hill for about seven years, and during that time anybody could lookup what I was getting paid in "the plum book". Big freakin' deal.

Yeah, somebody needs to find out exactly how many patrol officers are on the street, and how many are assigned to investigations (if they are tracked seperately), and how many are hanging out in Nagin and Riley's hideout watching Judge Judy.
 
Look man, I'm just saying, you know it seems like we've lost a lot more than 200 police officers. Also, it seems like the number that we hear is anywhere from 200 to 400. Either number wouldn't seem to account for the level of decreased presence, but nobody seems to even be asking for exact numbers.

I don't think that I've stumbled across a major scandal, but it wouldn't surprise me if payroll and roll call figures show that the man power shortage is far worse than we've been led to believe. Have we ever actually heard that since Katrina we've gone from x number of police officers to (for example) .75x number of officers? Or has it merely been said that we lost y number of police officers for disclipinary-- implying that was the bulk of the loss, when we probably lost many more to attrition? It could also be a shortage of operating cars or it might just be perception. But the first two would have forced the mayor to acknowledge bigger budget problems than he cared to during the campaign or could really acknowledge now.

I'll have to post more on this tomorrow or Sun. Thanks for the comments; Dangerblond have you been able to post on other blogs that use blogger? I'll have to look at my settings, I've heard that before but I thought I had the comments on the easiest setting. i guess it has been a few weeks since another non-blogger blogger told me that.
 
I think I heard that patrol officers were being reassigned to desk duty to make up for the loss of desk clerks.

Kind of a waste of street savvy manpower if you ask me. There are probably far more competent office-type people who could be hired to work a desk.

That's at least part of the problem. Then they're being spread too thin throughout the city.

Dangerblond's right -- the National Guard never should have left.

Now that they're back, I know I'm seeing more NOPD patrols passing in front of my house.
 
Good point Schroeder, also very interesting coment on the previous post. I'd urge anyone who missed it to read it--the comment, I'm not plugging my post. When the layoffs were announced in Oct., it was said that the NOPD lost 291 out of 2,296 positions--all support personnel, not officers. That implies that about 1/3 of the NOPD's pre-K payroll was not for police officers, BTW. Probably entirely reasonable, just an observation. If all 291 positions are being filled by patrolmen, that would double the effective manpower shortage over the 200-300 that we're told were lost for disciplinary reasons--can't even get a consistent number on that. There was also a story in yesterday's paper that mentioned about $30M from FEMA to replace damaged city vehicles, including police cars.

The point is that the NOPD seems to have been more affected by the city's budget problems than the city was willing to admit. I can understand the reluctance of the media to look into the matter once it became a campaign issue, but the campaign's over. Frankly, before the election, they should have worried as much about the mayor's factual consistency as his lack of tact.

Mermaid, are those all NOPD, or are any of them bridge police? If the traffic light are all working over there, the sentiments might be different, but on the east bank, most people, I think, would welcome increased traffic enforcement. If a traffic stop can be considered probable cause, it could probably have a deterrent effect. Relatives who live on the northshore seem to think that it could have a deterrent effect on looting, but that would require the cooperation of the causeway police or coordination with the state police.
 
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