Monday, January 08, 2007

Manpower Questions

I've been debating whether to post yet another time about police manpower and the city budget all weekend. When I left work Friday, it seemed like a no-brainer. On Thursday the mayor's op-ed piece let us know that, as Schroeder said, the mayor's "recovery plan is to 'await funding that has been promised to the city' so that the city can get 'its house in order.'" When the following day brought more internet discussion of the Endymion controversy, I was ready to write a snarky, preachy piece about not expecting Endymion back in mid-city (out of uptown, if you prefer) until people were ready to ask serious questions. It's one thing to use a parade controversy as an excuse to jump on your favorite soapbox, another to use real tragedy. Also, I wouldn't be arrogant enough to pretend to have the answers to the city's crime problems or simplistic enough to think that more police patrols alone can solve the problems. However, there are serious questions that need serious answers. Not utterly ridiculous answers that only the "Nagin hating" media would take seriously.

For example, how many active duty officers does the NOPD realistically expect to have at the end of the year? I doubt that any members of the city council have the faintest idea how many the city's budgeted for. Everything I've read indicates that Nagin's stated goal of a 1600 officer force is pure rhetoric. An article that mentions the 1600 officer goal, also states that to meet the goal, the police academy will need to graduate 200 officers a year for the next three years. The academy's first post-Katrina class has 41 recruits, but, as the article states, not all of them will graduate. It would seem that the city has some catching up to do.

Not exactly. An October Times Picayune article stated that:
Starting a wide-ranging recruitment campaign, with the goal of hiring 250 to 350 new officers over the next couple years -- the number Stellingworth said will be necessary to accommodate normal attrition levels...

The two goals seem somewhat contradictory. A couple of things worth noting, for one the article made it clear that meeting the smaller goal -- to hire enough to accommodate for normal attrition rates would be difficult to meet; not only because the city has cut the number of civil service employees handling NOPD applications from two down to one. Also, it's extremely doubtful that the city can expect normal attrition rates:
Police officers' morale has plummeted, Nagin said, since a grand jury indicted seven current and former officers last week on murder and attempted-
murder charges, stemming from a shooting episode on Danziger Bridge a week after Hurricane Katrina. In announcing the indictments, Jordan said officers cannot be allowed to "shoot and kill our citizens without justification, like rabid dogs."

Talk of beefing up the police force is clearly just talk.

A 1400 officer force might be more appropriate to city's new size than a 1600 officer force, if the 1400 figure weren't misleading. For one thing, over 100 of those officers are out on sick leave. In October, we were told that out of 1425 officers, 109 were out on sick leave. In Sunday's Picayune we were told that the force had 1401 officers -- including the 41 recruits -- with 114 out on sick leave. Even with the new recruits, the police force is losing officers. I believe the sick leave figures refer to officers on long term leave, if so, the trend isn't good even if the difference is small. If it does refer to officers out on long term sick leave, that raises one set of question. If that many officers are calling in sick on average day, it's even more worrisome.

It goes beyond that. I'll admit that I was wrong (somewhat) in June when I speculated that the numbers were fabricated, but I was right that they were misleading. Schroeder commented that he heard that police officers were assigned to duties that had been handled by civilian employees. That would stand to reason, the nearly 300 police department positions eliminated in the 2005 layoffs were all civilian positions. If a police department eliminates nearly half of its civilian positions, one would expect it to have some effect on patrol levels or overall effectiveness. Indeed, WWL would later report that, due to officers out on medical leave or engaged in what had been civilian duties, the number of active duty officers was closer to 1100. The rest of the negative local media failed to follow up on the story.

I have no idea how many more officers than usual are performing civilian duties, frankly, I shouldn't need to ask. Whatever the number, it's a ridiculous way to cut costs. As underpaid as police officers are, they do get paid more than desk clerks. Also, recruiting and training police officers is a costly, time consuming process, new office personnel can be trained and put to work in no time. If the mayor and city council were serious about spending priorities, the majority of police officers that have been re-assigned to desk duties would be back on the streets in a matter of days.

Mark at Wet Bank Guide has some good ideas on the subject. I agree with him about the curfew being needless, but would disagree with most of the people at yesterday's meeting -- I think that temporarily bringing back the state of emergency would be a good idea. It would make it far easier to reassign civil service employees and restructure the budget.

Adrastos has a recap of local blogger reactions to the crime wave. Twice.

This morning as I was driving around on the way to an appointment. The Chief was on WWL. A called who identified himself as a NOPD officer assigned to the Quarter said he had been told the actual number of officers was more like 900. The Chief denied it and the rattles off the numbers including 100+ officers out sick, 80-100 administrative duties and 80-100 command staff.

I imagine there is one less officer tonight for making that call.
You're probably right about the one less officer, but I'd prefer to think it's an angry chief trying to figure out who the officer is. My question is about the 80-100 doing administrative duties. It takes time to recruit and train that many new officers and the recruits don't all work out. So if the city council can find $300K to hire nine council staffers, why can't it find $3M to hire 90 new civilian employees and put those cops on the street?
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