NEW ORLEANS, LA – The size of the New Orleans Police Department is at a historic low and continues to shrink, while the average time it takes police to respond ticks up.
Fourteen-and-a-half minutes. That’s how long it takes, on average, for the NOPD to respond to an emergency call for a violent crime. That’s 14 minutes and 30 seconds for shootings, beatings, robberies and more.
“You have people who are waiting for a police response and we don’t have enough people to respond,” said Ray Burkart III, spokesman for the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
Early last year, the NOPD was responding to emergencies in about nine minutes. But the department got smaller.
And last fall, we told you that on some nights, only two to three cops were actually on patrol, answering service calls in some districts. The average response time was up to 10, nearly 11 minutes.
Superintendent Ronal Serpas said at the time that it was all about staffing.
“I wish we could get there in two or three minutes. But that’s a matter of how many people are on the ground,” he said.
Fast forward to early March. The average emergency response time has now surpassed the 14-minute mark.
Serpas acknowledged his depleted ranks, saying his officers are doing what they can.
“Bottom line, as you look at the department’s response time, it’s a matter of how many people are at work, at bare, and are being supervised,” he said. “Sometimes there is more demand than you have capacity, period, the end. It just happens like that.”
On average, it takes about eight minutes for the call coming in to be dispatched to an officer, according to NOPD statistics from early March. And it takes another six-and-a-half minutes for that officer to arrive on the scene.
Ray Burkart, of the police association, said officers feel the staffing shortage.
“We are hearing from our members on an almost daily basis, certainly a weekly basis: ‘When are we getting more manpower? I can’t get where I need to be fast enough to do my job.’”
Right now, the NOPD has 1260 people, including 20 recruits waiting to start the next training academy class. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has pledged to have two new NOPD recruit classes this year.
Serpas said he plans to hire 100 people through the year in order to keep up with attrition.
“Hiring is what solves response time as much as anything else you can do,” he added.
But it will take more than a year for these new recruits to go through training and hit the streets on their own. In the meantime, the department loses about two officers a week, about 100 in a year.
The issue has caught the attention of Councilwoman Stacy Head.
“This is not aggressive enough, in my opinion. I firmly believe that our city would be safer, again, with more, well-trained police officers,” she said.
“Bottom line, it’s not that complicated. We should focus on hiring more recruits right now. Should have been done a year ago, two years ago, let’s not talk about that anymore. We should be hiring more police recruits now.”
Head regularly hears from citizens who are unhappy with the NOPD’s response.
“I get these complaints and concerns and horror stories every single day,” she said. “I agree with them. They are right.”
Head believes a remedy is more cops, a better system of promotions within the NOPD and a push to enlist more reserve officers.
Meanwhile, a neighborhood watch group in Algiers Point has been compiling crime stats, trying to track NOPD staffing. This year, three people have been murdered there, a jump from the lone killing last year.
“Our concern really is do we have the numbers of police that can respond to these hotspots and stop the killing, without taking the protection away from other neighborhoods,” Rocks said.
“And the numbers we are concerned are simply not there to allow the police leadership to do what I know they would like to do: keep citizens safe and keep their officers safe.”
Rocks said he and a colleague met with the Fourth District commander and asked about staffing. He said he was told to file a public record request for the information.
Policing with limited resources can be a juggling act. Serpas noted that supervisors are responsible for triage, pulling cops off less-urgent, quality-of-life calls to attend to violent crimes.
He noted that the NOPD has a hefty volume of calls – about 476,000 in a year – and that about 70 to 80 percent of those calls are not related to violent crime.