In a series of moves aimed at chipping away at the city’s crime problem, the New Orleans City Council on Thursday passed measures directed at nuisance businesses, the parents of kids who bring guns to school and illegal dumping, while also asking for an auditor to take a close look at police recruiting.
On the same day that interim New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michelle Woodfork announced the department’s latest strategic plan for crime, council members said they’re disappointed with the NOPD’s progress on hiring.
Council President JP Morrell said he wants an outside firm to take a rigorous look at the NOPD and the private, nonprofit New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation’s roles in the process. He also raised the idea that the city might need to bring in a new headhunting firm.
“To be candid, the results have been bad across the board,” said Morrell. “We need to have a third party come in, audit our existing processes to figure out what is the best path forward.”
Under the ordinance, which passed unanimously, the council will seek out a firm to conduct a “performance audit” of the NOPD and the Police and Justice Foundation, which holds a $900,000 contract to help the department woo officer candidates.
When the council approved that contract in June, the foundation’s role in the recruiting process attracted little controversy and Morrell was a cosponsor. Yet since then, the debate over crime in the city has become only more heated, and the foundation has taken on the new role of employing consultants to advise the NOPD on a turnaround. Foundation leaders have also appeared by Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s side as she defends her record at news conferences.
Morrell said he was motivated by the lopsided ratio between the number of people who apply for the NOPD and those who are ultimately hired. Of 2,795 applications in 2021, for instance, only 42 people were hired.
Foundation board member John Casbon said the group welcomed the City Council review and promised to cooperate. He noted that the foundation’s role in the recruiting and hiring process is limited to advertising, accepting applications and following up with potential candidates to encourage them to complete the process. The city handles background checks, testing and hiring, he said.
He also said there was a good reason that only a small percent of applications make it through the “funnel” of the hiring process. The process is designed to ensure that the city only hires the best potential candidates, he said.
“When you take a funnel, and you put 2,500 or 3,000 people and put them at the top, you want to make sure you don’t have a Memphis issue at the bottom,” he said, making a reference to the violent death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers. “You have to make sure the people who are coming through are vetted and ready to serve this city.”
New gun penalty
Also Thursday, the council passed several ordinances aimed at preventing violence. One ordinance, sponsored by JP Morrell, creates a municipal violation for parents whose children bring guns to school. Those parents could be sentenced to three to six months in jail and fined $500.
Council members said they expected a legal challenge but voted unanimously to pass it anyway.
“I don’t know that we can legally do this, but I’m for it. Because at the end of the day, there needs to be a conversation,” said Oliver Thomas, the District E Council member.
Morrell, the measure’s sponsor, said it was necessary because police have told him that they have no way of holding parents or legal guardians responsible when their guns are brought to school.
“I think we’re on sound legal footing. It doesn’t mean that in this gun-friendly state, with a gun-friendly NRA and a gun-friendly Sheriffs’ Association, it won’t be a battle,” said Morrell.
Nuisances big and small
Separately, the council unanimously approved a “padlock” ordinance that would allow the Police Department to initiate the process of shuttering businesses that repeatedly harbor criminal activity.
At-large Council member Helena Moreno said her ordinance allows businesses that have received notices to either work with the NOPD to abate the problem or to plead their case in court.
At the urging of Council members Lesli Harris and Thomas, who said they wanted to ensure that minority business owners weren’t unfairly affected, the council passed an amendment requiring the city to report back demographic data on who is penalized.
“I don’t want to see enforcement like in the past, with our businesses being targeted because they don’t have the resources to defend themselves,” said Thomas.
The council also passed an ordinance sponsored by District D Council member Eugene Green, which is designed to allow the city to impound vehicles used in illegal dumping.