(NEW ORLEANS) -- By next spring, Police Superintendent Richard Pennington expects to have the 1,700-plus officers he has long maintained he needs to effectively fight crime in New Orleans. But with that lofty goal finally in sight, Pennington says it's time to begin laying the groundwork to expand the force to 2,000 officers by 2004.
Pennington made his case Monday before the City Council during a review of the Police Department's proposed $114 million operating budget for next year.
Mayor Marc Morial's proposed 2001 spending plan provides money for 1,735 officers, 80 more than the current level of 1,655. The budget includes money for four recruit classes of about 40 each, which Morial administration officials say will allow for growth as well as offsetting losses from attrition, which averages about 100 officers annually.
Deputy Superintendent Ronal Serpas said a 35-member recruit class is scheduled to graduate in January. The first of the four new classes are scheduled to start Dec. 27, followed by sessions beginning in March, June and August. Each class lasts 17 weeks.
Raising the department's ranks to 2,000 would carry a price tag of $13 million, money the city doesn't have at this time. But Pennington said he would like to begin discussing a strategy next year in an effort to accomplish the task by 2004.
"Understanding the current state of the city's finances, it would be hard to do," Pennington told the council. "But it's something we need to think about."
The superintendent said the additional officers will address three concerns: putting more cops in schools, expanding the neighborhood policing programs demanded by New Orleanians and strengthening his commitment to getting drugs off the streets by targeting the "midlevel distributors."
In the short term, City Councilman Eddie Sapir said the city should look into diverting a portion of the $2 million paid annually to the Orleans Parish School Board by Harrah's New Orleans Casino to pay for more school-based police officers.
Currently the casino appropriation is earmarked solely for repairs to schools. But Sapir said he'd like to see as much as half of the money used to increase the police presence on school campuses.
Under an agreement forged recently between Morial and the school system, 11 police officers will be assigned next month to five high schools and six junior high and middle schools, increasing to 20 the number of school resource officers. City officials began looking for a way to boost police presence in September after two students at Woodson Middle School were wounded in a shootout.
Not counting grant money, which is dedicated to specific proposes, the recommended 2001 police budget is about $4 million larger than the department expects to spend this year. As in past years, police spending accounts for more than 25 cents of every dollar the city spends -- by far the largest allocation for any city agency.
The administration did not include $760,000 requested by Pennington to pay for promotions to police officer IV, the highest rank below sergeant. Currently, about 200 officers are eligible for the promotions.
Councilman Scott Shea said he was concerned how the omission would affect morale on the force.
While they lack the money to pay for all the promotions immediately, police officials said they plan to promote officers as vacancies occur.
Pennington wants 2,000 officers by 2004;Police goal would cost $13 million By Frank Donze; Staff writer November 28, 2000 Tuesday Copyright 2000 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) November 28, 2000 Tuesday Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.