Roughly a week after New York-based consultants issued a report recommending redeployment of commissioned NOPD officers to patrol duty, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson announced his intention to do just that in an effort to address backlogs and lower police response times. At a press conference Thursday, the chief also urged applicants who were previously disqualified for marijuana use and low credit scores to reapply and said the department will soon add 50 to 75 new civilian positions.
While the report by NYPD veterans Fausto Pichardo and Thomas Conforti recommended immediately reassigning 212 officers to uniformed patrol duty, Ferguson said up to 75 officers in administrative and investigative positions would take on occasional uniformed patrol shifts starting Sept. 25 to boost visibility and increase officer safety. Traffic, K-9 and other reserve units would also have periodic patrol rotations.
In addition, Ferguson said he has launched a unit called the District Assist Response Team to lower response times. Once a week, officers from departments including the Investigation & Support Bureau, Public Integrity Bureau and Management Services Bureau will take on patrol shifts in the areas of greatest need.
"We must be successful and creative in reimagining policing, staffing and deployment, given the challenges we are facing today," he said.
The NOPD currently has 971 officers, including recruits, according to a public records request—a "historical low," the report stated.
To help boost the ranks, Ferguson said marijuana use and low credit scores will no longer be barriers to joining the force, and that the NOPD will soon advertise 50 to 75 new civilian jobs.
"We are definitely hiring," Ferguson said. "My message to those that may have been disqualified in the past: I urge you to resubmit your application."
As currently envisioned, the deputized civilians will address low-priority 911 calls including medical calls, forgery calls, some thefts, loose animals and car accidents on private property, all in an attempt to drive down police response times to a "more acceptable level," which Ferguson defined as "single digits."
The NOPD's goal in 2016 was to get 90% of emergency calls answered in seven minutes, which has yet to be achieved. Average response times in August were about 28 minutes for emergency calls and 2 hours and 45 minutes for non-emergency calls. The median response time, which Ferguson cited at the conference, is 11 minutes for emergency calls and 55 minutes for non-emergency calls.
Council President Helena Moreno lauded the decision to add civilian positions, saying the move will free up patrol officers to respond to urgent calls in a timely fashion.
"We have been insisting on this for quite some time," she said in a statement. "Boosting the civilian workforce within police departments is becoming a best practice across the country for situations that do not require a commissioned police officer to respond."
A representative from the NOLA Coalition, a group of more than 430 local nonprofits, civic organizations and businesses with an interest in public safety, called the emphasis on patrol shifts an efficient use of limited resources at a time when New Orleans' per capita murder rate leads the nation.
"Redeployment of officers to patrol duty is smart given current crime and manpower realities," said Michael Hecht, president of GNO Inc. "This move is consistent with the NOLA Coalition's strategy of 'resource optimization,' and we support the move."
Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.
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