Early last year a company called Berkshire Advisors was signed to provide an organizational assessment of NOPD for $225,000. The study, which was expected to last five months, was turned in this week on budget. The original proposal called for analysis of five key areas of interest for NOPD:
- Community policing & combating murder/violent crime
- Staffing levels
- Organizational structure & deployment
In reviewing the final report I came up with three buckets to place pretty much everything in it: suggestions that are interesting and/or helpful, suggestions that are obvious, and suggestions that are unhelpful. The helpful suggestions were generally ideas I thought were good to have on paper or concepts that could genuinely assist the police force. The obvious suggestions were the types of ideas the department undoubtedly knows would be helpful but is unable to implement right now due to lack of resources or personnel. The unhelpful suggestions were concepts of seemingly little value introduced with little evidentiary proof.
What follows is a summary of the 159 page report. I obviously did not have time to write about every section in the assessment so consider this a consolidated book review.
A few ideas jump out as most helpful for the city going forward. The first is a short paragraph on NOPD not needing to respond to non-injury traffic accidents. I’m on record saying that I think this is a good idea, and the city unsuccessfully pursued a way to curb these responses in the State legislature last year. Regardless, having the city’s staffing consultant point out the importance of this step can only be useful for the city going forward.
Another helpful section — in my opinion — is the one on DNA testing. Berkshire points out the usefulness of DNA testing for reducing property crimes. Jennifer Doleac of the University of Virginia has been writing recently on this very subject and found that expanding DNA profiling “reduces the probability of future convictions by 17% for serious violent offenders and 6% for serious property offenders.” The department has clearly been thinking about its DNA shortcomings and suggests it would cost over a million dollars to get set up. That may be a bargain given the technology’s potential benefits.
I also found several of the staffing discussions to be interesting such as the below table on the number of crime scene technicians needed by hour of day. Berkshire’s work assessing the needs of the crime lab and other specialty units based on current caseload also seems of value to the department.
Berkshire also conducted a survey of how patrol officers spend their time. It may not be groundbreaking, but it does provide insight into how efficient officers can be when out on patrol.
Finally, Berkshire assesses that NOPD officers should be limited in their use of take home cars though officers that live in New Orleans should all receive them as an incentive to live nearby. It’s an interesting idea that the department should consider though I won’t claim to have tremendous insight into its feasibility.
Berkshire’s discussion of crime reduction is generally high level with few specific suggestions on how to actually reduce crime in New Orleans. For example, despite claiming in their initial proposal that they will provide suggestions on crime and murder reduction the report includes very little of it. Berkshire concludes that their research into best practices “are generally consistent with the approaches the department currently employs.” The consultant could apparently find no crime fighting technique the city should be employing but is not.
The discussion on community and hot spot policing is general in nature and does not go into much detail into the actual research or application of these principles. Concepts like procedural justice are very important and there’s a body of literature on how to implement it. How New Orleans specifically can better implement these ideas is not really discussed though.
The section on crime reduction approaches is similarly very general and not tailored to the New Orleans environment. Berkshire frequently refers to “one study, for example, suggests…” without providing further information on the study such as when it was done and whether the study has methodological issues.
Two of the persistent problems with Berkshire’s work are a failure to show their work and providing advice based on what other cities are doing rather than what New Orleans needs to be doing.
Page 113 of the PDF shows two examples to this as the number of SWAT officers for New Orleans is compared to five other cities to show that New Orleans needs 20 officers (6 more than the city currently has). These five cities range from 14 SWAT officers in Atlanta (the same as New Orleans) to 30 in Mesa, AZ and average 22.6 officers per city. Why New Orleans needs 6 more highly trained SWAT officers is never explained. Is NOPD unable to perform its SWAT mission? What additional things could SWAT do with 6 more officers? The analysis doesn’t tell us.
Further down the page the department describes the clearance rate for various UCR Part I crimes. None of the work is shown so we don’t know what year this information comes from (presumably it is from 2014 based on the number of murders being close to 2014’s total) and whether those clearance rates are normal for New Orleans. A five year clearance rate average would be much more useful as basing future staffing decisions on 2014 crime figures is a bad idea.
Berkshire proposes that New Orleans needs 74 commissioned officers devoted specifically to terrorism. No explanation is given for why this is essential beyond the fact that New Orleans hosts major events. Terrorism is obviously an issue of great national concern, but dedicating over 5 percent of a local police department’s commissioned strength to the task without a clear mission is foolish.
Furthermore, Chief Harrison’s cover letter notes that Berkshire recommends NOPD should have a force of between 1,393 and 1,484 officers though the actual analysis does not specifically identify this goal nor does it expand upon why there is a suggested variation of 90 officers. The lack of a clear description of how the assessment reached its end staffing goals may be the most glaring omission in this report. Explaining how to deploy a 1,400 officer NOPD without expanding much text on specifically how to get there is not particularly useful for the city.
Additionally, Berkshire combines officers and civilians into one unhelpful category when describing where additional staff are needed. The analysis notes that officers are better trained and more experienced than most civilians yet does not differentiate between these two in the comparison of current and recommended staffing.
The analysis suggests NOPD go to six rather than eight districts, an idea that Chief Harrison rejected on the spot. Perhaps it will be a useful suggestion for NOPD leadership in the future, but expending time and effort on this idea won’t do much to assist NOPD anytime soon.
There is no mention of retention despite claiming to focus an entire section on that concept in the original proposal. This is fairly disappointing considering the fact that finding ways to recruit more officers and retain the officers it does have is arguably the department’s number one priority at the moment.
Finally, the discussion of recruitment produces some ideas about programs being implemented in other cities and calls them best practices. There is no discussion of the challenges NOPD specifically faces in recruitment nor is there any assessment of the department’s current recruiting efforts. Departments across the country are struggling to recruit police officers and Berkshire fails to address why these best practices might be effective in New Orleans.
Ultimately this report provides a number of useful suggestions on how to organize NOPD and areas where the department might be more efficient. New Orleans went looking for advice on how big NOPD should be and how the force could/should be organized, and the report’s findings will undoubtedly be of value for the department.
But New Orleans didn’t need an outside consultant to tell us that NOPD needed to be larger. The report provides an overview of how NOPD could be structured when it hits its manpower goal, but I believe that providing only general insight into how to actually get there and reduce crime along the way reduces the overall value of this work for New Orleans going forward.