New Orleans gets a "do-over"

Storm devastation can't kill the creative spirit of the New Orleans Police Department


     To help diffuse the situation, the NOPD rotated officers out of the worst areas so they weren't constantly bombarded with devastation. "When the situation settled down, we gave all officers five days leave and urged them to get away from the city, check on their families, get their kids enrolled in school, etc.," he recalls. "Mental health issues were taken seriously."

     He says there were some immediate reports of injuries as officers helped the public. One person lost his leg due to the putrid waters and an infected cut, but the injuries were less than you might have expected in such conditions.

     Another challenge for officers during and immediately after the storms was the looting and general lawlessness. "People acted out of frustration," Narcisse comments. "It seems like such extreme pressure brings out the good in some who risked their lives to save others and the bad in others. Their true characters came out."

     One officer was shot in the face by a looter and others dealt with being shot at daily.

     "Our city, like any large city, is affected by societal ills," Narcisse notes. "They were compounded by Katrina and a lack of resources. While the NOPD can't address all the root causes of crime, we're working to deter crime and address those issues because we want to reduce crime in the long run."

     He reports that all crime rates are currently down, but admits some of this is due to having a smaller population. "For example, murder numbers are down, but the percentage is actually up," he says.

Actively recruiting
     To replenish the ranks of officers, the NOPD is aggressively recruiting in the city, state and across the nation. Regionally, it's using billboards and advertising on TV, radio stations and in newspapers.

     The NOPD isn't alone in its efforts. "The City Council has voted us two pay raises in the past eight months," Narcisse says, "to attract new officers and keep existing ones that might be lured away by higher paying agencies in the area. That's amounted to a 20-percent raise."

     One creative recruiting activity is "Inside NOPD," a half-hour cable TV show that's aired several times each week, with a new show produced every two weeks.

     "It's actually geared to everyone, not just recruits," Narcisse admits. "It's a fast-paced, exciting program that relates what different divisions do, shows clips of SWAT teams breaking down doors or a scuba diver pulling up a car. We give crime prevention tips, explain crime trends and report on significant arrests. We're selling the NOPD to the public as well as reaching potential recruits. The episodes also are available on our Web site, www.nopd.com."

     Some officers attend campus drives and others make their presence evident at regional job fairs. "We're actively recruiting to those finishing up their military service and pitching our opportunities to them," he says. "We also recruit among the National Guard that has been helping out, and have some of those people either graduate from the academy or enrolling in the current class."

Positive changes
     "The storm allowed us the opportunity for a 'do-over,' " Narcisse says. "Most cities don't have this chance to get rid of what didn't work well. Our old way of doing things was washed out and we're allowed to start new."

     One positive technology result is the new radio system installed since the storm. "It's regional now, while before all the police departments in the area had their own," he notes. "This allows interoperability, so officers can talk with the next department if a perpetrator leaves our jurisdiction. All they have to do to speak with an adjacent city is turn the radio dial, and it works as far away as Baton Rouge. It links us to the state police as well. It's a huge positive!"

     The NOPD learned that property rooms don't belong in a basement. "We'll never do that again," Narcisse says. "In its 'do-over' we put it in a building with a higher elevation, and it's bright, clean and organized -- a great work space for evidence."

     Like many departments, the NOPD tended to put generators, electrical, telephone and information technology infrastructure in basement spaces. "It seemed like a good out-of-the way place to house these necessary lines and hardware, but that won't happen again," he affirms. "We won't have our technology compromised by flood waters again."

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