New Orleans, LA – The City of New Orleans has begun making fine payments that could add up to tens of millions of dollars for failing to keep a sufficient number of officers on the city’s police force.
The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has lost so many officers in the past several years that the department was considered to be “partially dissolved” in both 2021 and 2022 under Louisiana’s municipal pension laws, WWL reported.
The staffing shortage triggered another state law mandating cities and towns to cover the gap in funds that would have been paid into the pension system by the NOPD officers who ended up retiring or moving on to other positions, according to the news outlet.
The Municipal Police Employment Retirement System (MPERS), which all Louisiana police officers pay into, said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was notified about the impending fine in a letter back in March, WDSU reported.
The New Orleans City Council said they had not been notified about the letter and that they were blindsided by the massive fine.
According to City Council Vice President Helena Moreno, an MPERS representative said the pension group has been contacting the city for the past year about the impending penalty, WVUE reported.
“Yet, the council was never made aware of this particular issue,” Moreno said. “Not even the budget chair was made aware that this was coming down the pipeline.”
The city could be required to pay more than $38 million over the next 15 years to cover the pension losses, WWL reported.
The city submitted its first monthly payment of $50,314.10 to MPERS earlier in July.
That figure will jump up to more than $214,000 per month in July of next year unless the city can boost the NOPD’s staffing level to at least 1,119 officers, WWL reported.
The likelihood of that occurring appears grim.
“There’s a report that states by the end of the year, we’ll have the lowest number of police officers that we’ve seen since 1947. I would suggest that we’ve already surpassed that number right now,” Metropolitan Crime Commission spokesperson Rafael Goyeneche told WVUE. “We’ve lost more officers this year than we’ve hired.”
The NOPD would have to reach a total of about 1,500 officers to be fully staffed, WDSU reported.
That number plummeted to 981 officers by late June of 2022 and is expected to drop below 900 this year – if it hasn’t already, according to WWL.
“There’s really no wiggle room here, other than to get the numbers up,” MPERS Executive Director Ben Huxen told WWL. “We support New Orleans and want them to get more police officers and not have to make the payments.”