The New Orleans Police Department has apparently decided to punish its officers for the atrocious manpower woes faced by the department. 2014 ended with another 120 officer separations, bringing NOPD commissioned manpower down to 1,092. NOPD started 2 academy classes, 1 of which has entered the field training phase of the academy. Of course, this is shy of the goal of 3 academy classes for 2014. Fifty-nine people were hired and 4 of those have already been lost – shy of the goal of 150 new employees. The net manpower loss for 2014 was 65. We have already lost 2 in 2015.
Superintendent Michael Harrison has indicated that he is taking steps to bolster morale in the shrinking NOPD. He says that he has purchased new computers, new cars, and new TASERS – not to mention a 5% across the board raise for officers. (This column is not intended to address the raise; save that for another day.)
It was learned last week that the New Orleans Police Department has canceled all previously approved furlough requests for the 2015 Mardi Gras season. Other folks who have put in furlough requests for the Mardi Gras season, some submitted in 2014, simply won’t receive a response – effectively disapproving the request (in violation of Civil Service Rules). In addition, officers — who still need to take days off during the Mardi Gras season to control overtime costs — will not be allowed to shift those off days if a particular day off is needed.
Why is this even an issue? Doesn’t everyone work during Mardi Gras?
Yes. Everyone works during the 12 days that comprise the Mardi Gras season. Starting February 6, everyone not on limited duty or out of work for some reason, will be working. February 9 and 10 will be days off for a lot of officers because there are no parades on those two days.
There are, however, a handful of officers who ride in Mardi Gras parades. In fact, one officer is the Captain of a popular Mardi Gras krewe. Most of these officers have been riding in their respective parade of choice for a long time. Every year, for one of the 12 days of Mardi Gras coverage, these officers shift from Mardi Gras Police to Mardi Gras Reveler.
The officers, who participate in various parades on various days, invest thousands of dollars in these rides, much like other parade participants. You have to start planning early if you ride in a Mardi Gras parade. You can’t expect to be ready for your February parade if you start planning in mid-January.
So, officers who ride in Mardi Gras parades purchase their costumes and throws well in advance of the actual parade. Some will start planning Mardi Gras 2016 on February 18, 2015.
Officers who ride in Mardi Gras parades have also already submitted furlough requests for the day of their parade — weeks or months ago. Most of these officers have been doing this for years, so they know these requests need to be in well in advance. These furlough requests are not for the whole 12 days — just the one parade day.
So, the NOPD has rescinded any furlough approval previously given for Mardi Gras. Any furlough requests not approved or disapproved yet will either be ignored (in violation of Civil Service Rules) or disapproved and officers will not be able to switch their off days to accommodate their parade night. Effectively, the NOPD has said that even if you have invested thousands of dollars, officers will not be allowed to ride in Mardi Gras parades in 2015. In fact, what I heard was that Division Commanders will decide on a case by case basis if an officer can ride in a parade IF they happen to be lucky enough to have been scheduled off for their parade day. I can’t believe this is true because I think officers still get to decide how to spend their off day without their Division Commander’s approval regardless of manpower woes.
Some reading this may say that missing out on a parade isn’t the end of the world, and it’s not. However, officers should not have to lose the financial investment they have made in these events (even with the 5% raise). It is Mardi Gras this time. Next time it could be Jazz Fest where you have already paid $10,000 for your annual family vacation – which may be Granny’s last. Also, speaking as a life-long New Orleanian, I know that Mardi Gras is extraordinarily and culturally important to some folks. It simply isn’t fair to spring this on officers at the last minute after financial investments have been made. It will be especially troubling when we inevitably learn that some manage to ride on Mardi Gras Day when others were denied.
We acknowledge that the current manpower is more than a little troubling. One does not have to look to hard to find video of me on the news complaining about a lack of officers. However, if the NOPD cannot afford to give one day off to a few officers during the Mardi Gras season or risk the safety of all Mardi Gras attendees and New Orleans residents, then I submit that the problem is much worse than any of us have imagined. I could only imagine that the next step will be to implement a seven-day work week for everyone. We are already taking officers from the districts (the boots on the ground) to make a new task force to supplement short-handed districts.
What is clear is that officers are being told that they will pay the price for administration’s inability or refusal to hire new officers to offset attrition. It is also clear that any proclamations that work is being done to improve morale is only lip service. I predict we lose another officer or two over this.