NEW ORLEANS -- In October, the New Orleans Police Department announced it was creating 50 new civilian jobs designed to shore up the dwindling police force. Three months later, the NOPD has 160 qualified applicants but has yet to hire a single one, according to the Civil Service Department.
What's the hold-up? The NOPD says its a hiring process that has potential bottlenecks at several stages, including the background investigation process.
"Applicants may withdraw from the process at any point, and applicants sometimes do not show up for interviews," an NOPD spokesperson said in an email. "Also, the background investigation process has steps that are applicant-driven and can vary from applicant to applicant, as it is based on that particular individual."
Those steps include fingerprinting and drug screenings, according to the Civil Service Department. Supervisors also must review applications in addition to their regular duties, which are plentiful in a department that currently sits at around 939 commissioned officers, down from 1,491 in 2010.
The NOPD on Thursday did not offer a timeline for when the jobs will be filled.
The civilian hiring process starts when people submit applications via the city's job portal. Next, NOPD supervisors conduct interviews and select applicants to move on to background investigations, which take around 30 days, according to Civil Service Director Amy Trepagnier. According to the NOPD's website, employees are cleared for hire after successfully completing the background check.
Fifty-two qualified applicants are vying for 25 investigative specialist roles, which start at $49,889. Another 108 qualified applicants have thrown their hats into the ring for 25 intake specialist jobs, which start at $39,893.
The new jobs are intended to reduce the burden on commissioned officers by shunting non-emergency, non-violent incidents to civilians.
The intake specialists will do administrative work, including taking police reports and conducting some investigations of the non-emergency crimes including pickpocketing, shoplifting, criminal damage to property, criminal mischief, lost property, and auto, bicycle, identity and credit card theft.
The investigative specialists will do policing and administrative work across five specializations: the Field Operations Bureau, the Public Integrity Bureau, the Special Victims Unit, Alternative Police Response and Applicant Investigation.
Supervisors in each of these five units are conducting interviews, and some applicants have gotten through to the background investigation hiring phase, according to the NOPD.
'Initiatives have lacked urgency'
City Council member Helena Moreno said Thursday that an analysis of NOPD labor showed that 30% of officer manpower hours are spent on work that any trained professional could do.
"That means we could have our commissioned officers more effectively use their time responding to or preventing crime," she said in a written statement. "It's always been a no-brainer to boost our civilian force, but initiatives have lacked urgency."
Departments across the U.S. are facing similar staffing problems. A survey of dozens of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada by the think tank Police Executive Research Forum found that resignations increased by 43% and retirements jumped 24% from 2019 through 2021.
The Baltimore and Phoenix police departments are among those that augmented their ranks with civilian positions in 2022.
"I recently met with Chief Michael Harrison in Baltimore who is diligently hiring civilian investigators to respond to non-emergency issues and is able to hire qualified individuals," Moreno said. "In New Orleans we must quickly strive to get new professional hires in, because ultimately it'll lead to a more productive and responsive department."
The NOPD has loosened screening requirements for new sworn officers, eliminating questions about marijuana usage and credit scores, and sweetened the deal for new police hires with a $30,000 signing incentive and retention bonuses, which will be paid in March.
Officer attrition has slowed from 14.3% in 2021 and the first three quarters of 2022 to 9.6%, according to a Jan. 18 presentation by consultant Jeff Asher. But that still means the NOPD will have fewer officers in a year than it does today.
It's unclear how many offers of employment the current pool of 160 civilian NOPD applicants will yield. But according to Asher, of 2,590 applications received last year for policing jobs, only 25 new officers were hired—about 1%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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