The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) announced on September 22 its plan to hire between 50 to 75 civilian workers to respond to non-emergency calls and other tasks to help with the department’s staffing issues.
According to the NOPD, civilian employees will be assigned to tasks such as monitoring phone and online reports, issuing traffic citations, surveying large events and conducting some investigative work.
Civilian staff may also be dispatched to calls not requiring an officer, such as when collecting preliminary evidence, responding to certain medical calls, thefts, forgeries and loose pets.
“The goal of all of this is to make our officers feel safe so that they can make our citizens and visitors feel safe,” NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said. “This is also to reduce some of the workload currently placed on our patrol and district personnel. But more importantly this is designed to reduce response time and address the backlogs in which we have in some of our districts.”
Ferguson said the department is still working on a training curriculum for the new hires; however, once it is finalized, civilians who are hired must participate in training. They will also need to undergo a background check before being hired.
The department also announced that it has loosened some of its hiring requirements, such as its marijuana and credit score policies. Prior to being hired, applicants must pass a drug test, but they will not be questioned about marijuana use, and low credit scores will not be impacted during the hiring process.
In addition, the department has announced plans for pay raises for all officers and a $30,000 incentive payment for new hires, along with increased health benefits, a take-home car policy, student debt forgiveness and mortgage assistance to attract candidates.
Officials say the goal is to hire 200 officers.
“This is all in an effort to be in … more of a competitive position to hire more employees with the New Orleans Police Department,” Ferguson explained. “So my message to those that may have been disqualified for any of these reasons in the past — I’m urging you to resubmit your application because some of our hiring criteria has changed.”
The NOPD is currently stretched thin and struggling with soaring crime rates.
New Orleans recently overtook St. Louis as the murder capital of the country, with 52 homicides per 100,000 residents. In total, homicides are up by 78% compared to 2021, and a staggering 121% compared to 2019.
Ferguson said that, at the moment, the department’s response time for priority calls is 11 minutes.
Experts blame the crime and slow response times to significant attrition that has reduced the department from 1,300 to 1,000 officers over the last several years.
To make up for the loss of officers, the department also announced that it will transfer officers from administrative duty to patrol and investigative units. Ferguson added that 12-hour shifts will continue.
“Starting this Sunday, as many as 75 more officers will be on patrol. That will consist of officers assigned to administrative districts and district investigative units. Their mission is to attack the backlog of the very district they are serving,” Ferguson announced. “We will also be using our traffic and K-9, as well as our reserve divisions. Those are units that are normally in a standby position, waiting to be called upon. That will not happen any longer. They will be in the field in some sort of deployment status.”
City Council President Helena Moreno noted that cities like Baltimore and Phoenix have begun hiring civilians to respond to particular crimes and have seen some success.
“Somebody breaks into your house, someone steals your car, who is going to be investigating those particular crimes?” Moreno said. “That’s where I bring up where are the civilians in this? Where do we bring civilian force like we’re seeing in Baltimore and Phoenix? We’re seeing other police departments do it so there is someone actually trying to figure out and actually catch the bad guys who are breaking into your house and stealing cars?”
The plan is funded by the American Rescue Plan and is estimated to cost $80 million over the next three years.