Federal officials and citizens alike have been calling on the New Orleans Police Department to hire more officers and rethink its approach to handling 911 calls for service. In response, city officials have lifted some restrictions on residency and former drug use to join NOPD. Right now the department has about 1,150 officers, and hopes to add at least a hundred more by year's end.
NOPD is also actively recruiting potential candidates with events like a recent job fair at Langston Hughes Academy.
If there was one overarching theme to the event it was this: working for NOPD gives you options. Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas even offered his best impression of Spud McConnell for Dorignac's.
“We got motorcycle officers, we got mounted officers, we got footbeat officers. I almost sound like that fat guy on TV: ‘We got dat!’”
In the school cafeteria, potential recruits waited for remarks from the mayor, city council members and police.
Lenell Lavigne is in nursing school at Delgado, but says she’s open to a career with the police.
“I think this is something I want to be a part of, as far as, like, social work. Not saying I really want to be on the front lines. I just want to come here to find out some information about what other departments are available. Because it’s just hard trying to find a decent paying job in New Orleans,” she says.
The superintendent aims for a more community-minded approach to law enforcement.
A recent report by the Office of the Inspector General says NOPD could increase its effectiveness by dedicating more of its current officers to answering calls for service, rather than community policing and traffic duties. But Serpas says that he’d rather bring on more people than cut back on cops on the street and at community meetings.
“The Inspector General’s report looked at one piece of a modern American police department, and that is the answering calls in the blue and white cars. We don’t have any disagreement that we need more people to do that, but I’m not going to back off of community policing. I’m not going to back off of group violence reduction. I’m not going to back off of murder reduction. Which means you have to do some balancing. Every one of our units could use more people, and the cars in the field could use more people, too,” he says.
Mayor Landrieu reaffirmed his commitment to bringing NOPD up to national standards.
“We are asking you to consider joining the New Orleans Police Department, which in my view is going to be one of the best police departments in the country in the not so distant future,” he says.
After the speeches wrapped up, everyone filed into the gym. Representatives from various wings of the NOPD stood next to tri-fold poster boards, science fair-style, ready to explain their job duties to the potential applicants.
The job seekers ranged widely in background and experience.
Kenny Grunberg spent a year in Iraq as a military police officer with the Army National Guard. He already has ties to the department.
“My grandfather was NOPD for 16 years. All the stories he tells me and from my experience as a military police officer, I’ve always been interested in being in law enforcement,” Grunberg says.
Elvin Green has other reasons.
“I was shot in front of my high school after a basketball game. I want to make my city a better place,” Green says.
Despite the effort to facilitate applications, the process can seem daunting. Amy Trepagnier from the Civil Service department describes how to get the ball rolling.
“The first step is to apply, and you can apply at the city’s website, Nola.gov. And the civil service department will process your application and schedule you for a test date. The next step is to arrive on the test date with your documents. We’ll get you tested for multiple choice testing. And if you’re successful at that, we’ll get you scheduled for a physical agility test. And after that you’ll head to police background where NOPD does a full background check on you. Once you successfully complete the background, you’re referred back to Civil Service, where you undergo medical and psychological testing. And then once you successfully complete those steps, NOPD will bring you on board,” she says.
One of the problems that plagues the department is its steep attrition rate. The force has lost nearly 60 officers already in 2014. Critics say the NOPD should raise pay and expand opportunities for promotions if it wants to retain its officers.
Still, Superintendent Serpas remains optimistic.
“There’s 29 people in the current academy class. There’s 64 people in background investigations right now for the next class. And there’s well over 1,500 people who have applied with an actual application to the NOPD that we’re working through,” he says.
Nineteen people signed up to take the civil service exam at the event.