RAND Report Offers Ways to Help New Orleans Police Boost Recruitment, Retention of Officers

For Release

March 30, 2007

Giving junior officers pay raises they already have earned would provide the most immediate boost to the New Orleans Police Department in its effort to slow an exodus of officers that began after Hurricane Katrina hit the city, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.

Other affordable actions that could help the department's recruiting and retention over the next year include hiring civilians to perform clerical duties now performed by officers, increasing the frequency of promotional exams, and working to attract new officers to the department, according to the study conducted for the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute by the RAND Center on Quality Policing.

New Orleans police officials have begun to adopt many of the RAND recommendations.

“New Orleans has many fiscal priorities, but improving the staffing of the city's public safety efforts is one key element needed to support the region's rebuilding,” said Bernard Rostker, a RAND senior fellow and lead author of the report. “We found a number of effective steps that are also relatively affordable that the city should consider in order to help stabilize its force and raise morale among officers.”

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said; “Combating crime and rebuilding the New Orleans criminal justice system remains a top priority for the city's recovery. The RAND Corporation offers a level of expertise that can assist in developing creative strategies to help our police department protect and serve the citizens of New Orleans.”

Researchers for RAND, a nonprofit research organization, developed a menu of recommendations after interviewing officers and civilians from throughout the New Orleans Police Department and surveying efforts that other cities have taken to boost police recruitment and retention.

Because of New Orleans' difficult financial situation since Katrina struck the city on Aug. 29, 2005, researchers focused on initiatives that have relatively modest costs. But they also outlined more costly measures the city should consider over the longer term. Among the recommendations to New Orleans in the RAND report:

  • Provide pay increases to junior officers who already have passed promotional exams. Many junior officers have not received their earned promotions because of the city's financial problems.
  • Boost officer salaries by reducing the department's generous retirement plan and using the savings for more immediate compensation. The New Orleans Police Department pays its officers significantly less than comparable cities, and this hurts recruitment and encourages younger officers to transfer to other cities.
  • Hold promotional exams every 12 to 18 months, instead of every three to five years. Such a move would improve advancement opportunities for younger officers, aiding retention and improving the quality of those promoted.
  • Create a proactive recruiting effort that would field officers with specific skills, rather than simply waiting for volunteers. Over the long term, this effort could be combined with a junior officer program or a school-based program that would help steer young people to careers with the department.
  • Accelerate efforts to rebuild police facilities, including the headquarters and the district stations. Much of this can be carried out with funds from the federal government, so work should be done quickly.
  • Given the current shortage of officers, civilians should be hired to do many types of clerical duties now performed by uniformed officers. This would help to put more uniformed officers on the streets.
  • Consider providing housing to new recruits in exchange for their agreeing to stay with the department for some number of years. This may become feasible if the city, as expected, acquires a stock of relatively good housing.

“No one of these measures will solve the New Orleans Police Department's recruiting and retention problems, but our study found that many of these measures have helped other departments address similar challenges,” Rostker said. “None of these measures are too expensive to be considered.”

Hurricane Katrina and the flooding it triggered largely disabled the New Orleans Police Department, leaving the city's police headquarters and main jail substantially damaged. Since the disaster, the police department has suffered unusually high rates of departure and has had difficulty attracting new recruits.

In the 14 months following Katrina, the number of budgeted police officers was cut about 15 percent, from 1,885 to 1,600. During the same period, the actual on-board strength declined by an even larger amount — from 1,742 to 1,421 officers. Losses have been concentrated among the junior ranks — the officers who patrol the streets today and who were being counted on to provide future leadership.

Other authors of the RAND study are Michael M. Hix and Jeremy M. Wilson.

The RAND Center on Quality Policing provides research and analysis on contemporary police practice and policy. By determining what practices are most cost-effective and results-oriented, the center's work helps law enforcement agencies across the United States make better operational decisions and consistently perform at their best.

The RAND Gulf States Policy Institute works to develop a long-term vision and strategy to help build a better future for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The goal of RGSPI is to assist in long-term recovery efforts by providing evidence-based policy guidance to speed regional recovery and growth.

RAND joined with seven universities to create RGSPI in late 2005. The seven are: Jackson State University and the University of Southern Mississippi in Mississippi; Tulane University, the University of New Orleans and Xavier University in Louisiana; and Tuskegee University and the University of South Alabama in Alabama.

RGSPI seeks funding from nonprofit institutions, other donors, government and the private sector to conduct a broad range of studies. It is the first organization of its kind in the region to conduct a full spectrum of policy research on pressing challenges facing the three states, including problems that existed even before the hurricanes struck.

The report, “Recruitment and Retention: Lessons for the New Orleans Police Department,” is available at www.rand.org.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.