Residency law hinders new officer recruiting
After hearing this week from Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas about challenges in recruiting new officers, two City Council members have proposed exempting new cops and other first responders from a law demanding that all fresh city hires live in New Orleans.
Council President Jackie Clarkson and Councilwoman Susan Guidry want to free new police, fire and Emergency Medical Services workers from the requirement through the end of 2014.
The so-called “domicile rule” was suspended for several years after Hurricane Katrina before being reinstated early this year with little notice. The council modified the law to allow current employees who live outside New Orleans to stay where they are.
The idea of the requirement, supporters say, is to favor local commitment, and presumably in-city spending, when hiring new municipal workers. Under the ordinance as now written, new police officers and other workers have 180 days to move into the city once they are hired.
Clarkson and Guidry proposed modifying the ordinance on Thursday, a day after Serpas told a council committee that the domicile law could slow an already struggling police recruiting effort. The issue is likely to be most acute when trying to hire officers away from neighboring forces, Serpas said. The current Police Academy class of 27 recruits has just two candidates from nearby agencies.
“It is a fact: If you’re trying to recruit a police officer who has invested their life in that other place, they’re going to consider what the laws of residency are,” Serpas said.
According to Serpas, the NOPD has lost more than 300 members to resignation, retirement or dismissal since he took office three years ago, leaving it with about 1,200 commissioned officers. A renewed recruiting effort, after years of hiring freezes, is struggling to find qualified candidates.
Clarkson called it a brewing crisis. “We’ve seen it coming for a long time,” she said. “We began to see we had a ceiling (in hiring capability). We didn’t see that ceiling in March,” when the law was reinstated.
If the proposed exemption passes, Clarkson said, the city would gather data to see whether relief from the domicile requirement is having a beneficial effect. “If it doesn’t make any difference, we can put it back,” she said.
Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who has two sons in the NOPD — both of whom live in New Orleans — said she needs to study the issue to see whether the proposed exemption is too broad.
“I was ready to vote for it if it was for police officers only,” Hedge-Morrell said. “I have to think about it. I have to talk to some more community members.”
Councilwoman Stacy Head, who crafted the modified ordinance that passed this year, said in a statement that she’s fine with suspending the law for emergency workers, though she doubts the change would have much impact.
“After speaking with many NOPD officers, both past and present, I maintain that a domicile requirement is not a major hindrance to police recruiting,” Head said. “However, I support my colleagues’ steps to temporarily lift the requirement for first responders in order to measure its effects.”
Clarkson said the draft ordinance will go to a committee first and then should be ready for a full council vote late next month.
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said Friday she had not yet seen the proposed ordinance.
Eric Hessler, an attorney with the Police Association of New Orleans, said he has been campaigning against the domicile rule since it was reinstated.
“Eight months later, they appear to have recognized” the problems the law creates, Hessler said of the council. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s a hindrance.”