With the vast majority of police officer job candidates in New Orleans dropping out of the hiring process at an early stage, the City Council is poised to increase the budget for an outside non-profit’s recruiting effort.
New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation leaders told the council at a budget hearing Tuesday that the bump, from $500,000 per year to $900,000, could help them increase the share of applicants who make the cut and halt the police force’s rapid decline in size.
Of the 1,044 people who have applied to become police officers this year, only 184 have taken a civil service test, the foundation says. Foundation staffers said the additional public spending will go toward an online test that can be taken anywhere, and to fund two recruiters embedded in the Police Department.
“The funding that is on the board today is absolutely critical to the process, to maintain the status quo and to bring us just north of that,” said Melanie Talia, the foundation’s president and CEO.
Talia and council members said the status quo involves a constant recruiting struggle that has become more urgent in light of the department’s high attrition rate. The Police Department shed 10% of its officers last year.
Pay hikes for police
While some protesters called on New Orleans in 2020 to defund the police, during the national outcry over George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, that idea never caught on with City Council members. And after two years of rising gun violence, elected officials are racing to advance proposals for boosting the size of the Police Department, or at least to slow its shrinking act.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell has proposed offering $5,000 bonuses for every five years of service. Council member Lesli Harris wants to offer annual 2% pay increases for officers.
Cantrell’s chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montaño, said he hopes the administration and council can come together on an overall pay proposal that doesn’t rely on one-time revenue for long-term recurring expenses.
More aggressive recruiting
The pay proposals are focused largely on keeping the officers that the department has. Recruiting efforts such as the one Talia touted are aimed at ensuring the department is staffed with new officers as well.
The funding ordinance for the foundation was requested by Cantrell’s administration, and is cosponsored by five of seven council members. It’s expected to pass at Thursday’s council meeting.
“Obviously, there is a very favorable feeling up here,” council member Joe Giarrusso, chair of the budget committee, said from the dais.
The foundation has been involved in promoting police employment since Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. It said it has already seen positive results from two recruiters it hired on a temporary basis; they pushed the “conversion rate,” of job seekers who take the civil service exam after applying, from 17.2% this year to 22.7% last month, a foundation staffer said.
Morale cited as factor
The recruiters’ job will be to shepherd applicants through the process, which also involves a background check and physical fitness test.
The online test is designed to appeal to applicants from other states, who have made up an increasing percentage of the Police Department’s academy classes in recent years.
Still, one representative for a police labor organization said the Police Department must improve its internal morale before it can boost recruitment. The department’s officers are its best ambassadors for potential recruits, but they’re dissatisfied, said Claude Schlesinger of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“We have to improve the working conditions of the Police Department so that they’re enthusiastic about coming to work and wanting to come to work, and that is where recruiting really starts,” he said.