New Orleans Interim Police Chief Michelle Woodfork recently proposed hiring civilians to reverse staffing shortages and address a surge in violent crime just in time for Carnival season.
Woodfork assured the City Council in a meeting on February 7 that since she took over on December 22, the department has made steady improvements in reducing violent crime and attracting more applicants, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported.
As part of her new initiative, Woodwork said she plans to prioritize civilian hires — something the City Council proposed last year and was largely ignored by former NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson.
The initiative comes just before Carnival, a time when the city receives thousands of tourists and the NOPD coordinates with other local agencies to provide security and response.
Across the country, departments have been struggling to hire new police — especially in the wake of controversies like the death of George Floyd and more recently the killing of Tyre Nichols.
The NOPD is no exception. Last year, the department lost 154 officers and hired just 28 officers, leaving it at a record-low strength of 922 officers.
Yet, the chief remained optimistic. Asked whether “we can be a safer city with the manpower and the womanpower that we have,” Woodfork responded: “I absolutely believe that we can we will.”
The interim leader cited her short-term impact on reducing violent crime to its lowest monthly total — 303 crimes — in a year.
Woodfork’s latest attempt to address staffing shortages is to follow the City Council’s advice to hire more civilians to the force. Previously, the council advocated to Mayor Latoya Cantrell for creating civilian positions, but there was too much red tape involved. Now, the department has finally approved of a list of 102 positions for civilian officers, covering duties like low-level theft reports and other minor calls. Officials hope the move will reduce the workload on sworn officers.
In addition, Woodfork said the department is focusing on recruiting by luring officers out of retirement, and plans to purchase 200 new computers and 700 new vehicles to accommodate staff.
Finally, Woodfork mentioned that the city is negotiating a new contract with On Scene Services, which allows civilians to handle traffic investigations.
“If we can get that done before the end of the month, that would be great,” Council President JP Morrell said. “As a city dealing with a significant surplus on the books, this is a really important priority.”
In preparation for Carnival, Mayor Cantrell said the NOPD will work with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Department to handle traffic, security concerns and crowd control.
“We expect really more crowd control than anything else,” said Woodfork. ‘We’re praying nothing major will happen on the parade routes. We just want people to be safe and have a good time.”