07/25/2006

Mayor announces pay raises for New Orleans police

By MICHELLE ROBERTS
The Associated Press   

NEW ORLEANS- Police and the lowest paid firefighters in this city that continues to reel from Hurricane Katrina will get pay raises to help retain and recruit employees, the mayor announced Tuesday.

Plans, which still need final approval from the City Council and a civil service committee, call for a 10 percent raise for all police officers and a 33 percent increase for new firefighters. The raise, expected to start Sept. 1, will take the base salary for starting police officers to $36,600. Starting firefighters will earn $20,800.

The ranks of both forces have been thinned since Katrina washed away the homes of many police and firefighters, the chiefs of both departments said Tuesday. Many police and firefighters have been recruited by other departments or have moved to accommodate spouses and families who have settled elsewhere.

Mayor Ray Nagin said he hopes the pay raises will help stabilize the ranks and ensure public safety. He also expressed gratitude to those who stayed throughout the chaotic post-Katrina difficulties.

"Many are struggling to get their lives back in order, but they are working hard every day," Nagin said.

The raises, which will cost about $2.2 million, will be funded by reallocating savings in the budgets of both departments.

The fire department hopes to increase its force of about 690 by 75 new firefighters. It is down about 100 firefighters currently.

The police department, now with about 1,460 patrol officers, lost about 200 officers after Katrina — including 17 who were fired after abandoning their posts. Chief Warren Riley said another 200 still on the force have sought employment in other cities.

Nagin said he hopes that in addition to stabilizing the police and fire departments, the raises will signal to residents that public safety is a key concern in the recovering city.

A rash of murders in and around New Orleans earlier this year raised concerns that violent crime had returned to New Orleans. The National Guard and state police last month started patrolling largely abandoned neighborhoods and the French Quarter last month. Authorities say they seem to be helping.

Riley said even if the police ranks stabilize with the raises, he hopes National Guard patrols will stay through the end of the year.

They've allowed 70 to 80 police officers to concentrate in more heavily populated neighborhoods instead of spending time patrolling areas like the Ninth Ward and Lakeview, which were badly damaged and remain sparsely populated, Riley said.

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