Guest column: After leadership change, police still need support

The New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation was founded in 1996 to support and improve the New Orleans Police Department. We have continued this effort through three mayoral administrations and six superintendents. Our focus remains unchanged.

The NOPJF Board of Directors extends our deepest appreciation to Chief Ronal Serpas for his extraordinary efforts to build a 21st century police department. Chief Serpas’ departure is a loss to the department and our city. We wish him well as he embraces new opportunities.

We also offer support and our sincere best wishes to Interim Chief Michael Harrison as he assumes the mantle of leadership. As always, NOPJF stands poised and ready to assist — continuing to advocate for, support and believe in the courageous men and women who wear the badge. Now, more than ever, NOPJF must reassure these officers that they are not alone in this tough, and oftentimes dangerous, fight to make New Orleans a safe and wholesome place. One way to do that is to cite some of the programs that NOPJF sponsors and leads on behalf of New Orleanians and our men and women in blue.

Recruiting new officers: In a joint effort with the Landrieu administration, NOPJF launched joinNOPD.org, a web-based interactive recruitment initiative expanding and speeding up the process of identifying and recruiting new officers. This effort is aimed directly at stemming the outflow of officers and systematically building our police force to the optimum number needed to safely and effectively police our city. Applications to NOPD have increased by over 700 percent in the first six months of 2014, compared to 2013. With the ability to apply online and the significant increase in applicants, NOPJF linked www.joinNOPD.org with a robust volunteer corps assisting the Office of Civil Service with scheduling and confirming exam test dates. NOPJF, NOPD and the city are working together to expedite and optimize the background investigation process to manage the surge of NOPD candidates. A class of NOPD cadets is in session and about to graduate; another cadet class is preparing to begin in September; and more are anticipated by year’s end.

Tragedy fund: Regrettably, the dangers of police work may sometimes lead to injury or loss of life for one of our officers. The Tragedy Fund provides financial support to department employees or members of their families when these unfortunate events occur.

The Orleans Parish Information Sharing and Integrated Systems Initiative: OPISIS improves the timeliness, quality and completeness of information through all stages of the criminal justice process. It integrates and expedites electronic data exchanges of related information between the police department, the district attorney, the public defender, Criminal Court and the Sheriff’s Office.

SAFECAM NOLA: This new online service enables businesses and citizens to register their surveillance camera systems with NOPD. Officers may then review footage as a part of the investigation of crimes committed in areas where cameras are located.

But, as every citizen knows, there is much more to be done and it’s going to take all of us to do it. So NOPJF is enlisting the enthusiastic support of every New Orleanian for our police department. These brave men and women are, after all, our neighbors, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, moms and dads. We’re asking all citizens to join the Saints and NOPJF in a resounding show of support on Sunday, September 21, when the Saints open the regular season in the Superdome against the Minnesota Vikings. On game day the Saints organization and NOPJF are recognizing our officers and urging all Saints fans to “Get Behind the Badge!”

It’s the quintessential New Orleans way of making sure our officers know that we’ve got their backs, in the same way that they so admirably have ours.

Sandra Shilstone is board chair and Bob Brown is board vice chair of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.