Mayor wants ARPA funds for police raises as crime rockets

Rohan Goswami, News Editor

Crime continues to plague New Orleans, with carjackings wreaking havoc in the Garden District, on tourists and on the youth of Orleans Parish.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell, under fire from local activists, politicians and community leaders, announced a sweeping plan on Feb. 8 to beef up funding for the New Orleans Police Department and increase retention rates.

The plan would provide retention bonuses for NOPD officers in an effort to combat high levels of attrition and a looming retirement crisis.

A photograph of the blue lights on campus. (Gabe Darley)

For months, police have sounded the alarm about the number of officers at NOPD. Fully staffed, NOPD fields 1,600 officers. 

“We are down to roughly 1,050, 1,040,” NOPD Captain Mike Glasser said. Glasser is also president of the Police Association of New Orleans.

“The entire plan on how we distribute officers across the city is based upon a number of 1,600,” New Orleans Councilmember J.P. Morrell said. “We haven’t had 1,600 officers in over, probably, a decade.”

Cantrell fixed the cost at $18 million through 2023, with at least $4 million in annual costs after that. The mayor offered two potential routes for funding: requisitioning the funds from the Louisiana Legislature or activating the second tranche of New Orleans’ American Rescue Plan Act funds.

A spokesperson for Mayor Cantrell, Beau Tidwell, said that the Mayor plans to fund the proposed commitments through a combination of existing budget surpluses and federal funding. According to Tidwell, the earliest date for these funds’ activation is late March.

According to a Louisiana Budget Project document, funding through the ARPA option is restricted until May 2022, two months after Mayor Cantrell’s announcement.  

Funding to restore this funding to the agencies so that they can continue to recruit and hire new personnel through the end of 2022 will be requested as part of the ARPA Tranche 2 funding request,” Tidwell said. 

Glasser said he does not think compensation is why NOPD lost over 150 officers in 2021 alone.

“We have officers who are not leaving policing, per se, but are leaving New Orleans to do policing elsewhere,” Glasser said, “leaving to take pay cuts just to police somewhere else other than here.”

“In our business, we call that a clue,” Glasser said. 

Glasser pointed to national backlash against police officers, officer concerns over the Public Integrity Bureau, an increase in assaults on officers and limited promotional opportunities for NOPD officers as drivers behind police attrition.

On Feb. 16, Glasser said, officials from the superintendent’s office relayed that if the mayor’s raises and bonuses were approved, officers would “probably see some disbursement sometime in the spring of 2023.”

Officers will doubtless be pleased with their bonuses, Glasser said. 

But, he added, “it doesn’t fix the main things that are driving cops away from this job.”

Tidwell said that the mayor’s proposed retention bonuses, one-time payments to emergency services officers, would be “due in 2023.”

In Orleans Parish, the Stimulus Command Task Force controls the fund allocation decisions. The Mayor’s 2021 ARPA plan did not include an expansion of NOPD funding.

Despite rhetoric from the Mayor and District Attorney Jason Williams, Morrell said he thinks the crime surge was predictable from far out. 

Morrell pointed to another recent crisis — trash going uncollected for weeks after Hurricane Ida — as a parallel to the crime wave.

“The writing was on the wall, almost a year and a half out, that there was going to be a trash apocalypse,” Morrell said, because “the hoppers and drivers for the trash companies actually went on strike in May of 2021.”

Morrell said there were the same kind of early warnings about the current crime wave.

“The mayor, in the past council, was content to ignore it,” he said. 

As for the mayor’s proposed solutions?

“An $18 million plan that no one has seen,” Morrell said. “Including the council.”

“The mayor still has no plan to fight crime, nothing is reviewable, that can be articulated,” he said.

Morrell’s frustrations with the mayor’s plan — and her direct report, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson — are not unique, even within the city council.

On Jan. 20, before Cantrell proposed her plan, council members grilled Ferguson about the lack of detail on responding to crime. Helena Moreno, president and councilmember-at-large, questioned Ferguson in an hours-long meeting.

What’s the plan that you can show us and show the public? What is the 90-day plan, the 90-day strategy?” Moreno said.

The uncertainty over funding and NOPD’s actual headcount also concern Morrell, he said.

“The mayor won’t even articulate what parts of her plan are recurring or not recurring, and how much those are going to cost,” Morrell said.

According to Morrell, the first step in combating the crime problem is admitting that there is one. 

Tyrese Harris was arrested after an armed robbery in August 2021. Attorneys in Williams’ office refused to prosecute his case, citing a lack of victim cooperation.

Today, Harris is in police custody as a suspect in the brutal Feb. 1 Costco carjacking and in the Jan. 10 murder of a 12-year-old child.