By John Simerman
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer
NEW ORLEANS – Gregory Rotton’s career as an officer with the New Orleans Police Department ended in an accident.
A detective in the First District, Rotton was tapped to investigate after four youths in a stolen SUV crashed into an arcade on Avenue Saint-Claude on January 12 with police in pursuit, seriously injuring a worker.
As he walked away a month later after almost seven years on the force, Rotton said his superiors pressured him to charge 19-year-old Lamar Logan, the only adult involved in the accident , of attempting to rob a federal agent in Treme minutes earlier. . Rotton argued that the off-duty officer’s account amounted to “at most a suspicious person incident.” He said he was then quickly removed from a prime assignment.
“I refuse to work for any agency where I can be punished for upholding my oath and the rule of law,” Rotton wrote in a letter to the department.
His story is among hundreds of pages of officer exit interviews reviewed by The Times-Picayune, a heavy pile mostly filled with harsh criticism for a department struggling to find and keep officers.
The interviews are of officers who resigned or retired in 2022, many of whom left for jobs in other police departments. Together, their farewell plans echo the chorus of despair of an overworked and dispirited force now entering its second decade under federal supervision.
When former Mayor Mitch Landrieu and then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced the sprawling federal consent decree at Gallier Hall on July 24, 2012, the department employed more than 1,300 officers, with a budget of 1,600 and plans to remake the NOPD in the picture. of reform.
Today, fewer than 1,000 officers remain after a net loss of one in six officers since the start of last year. More than 90 left the force this year in early July, according to police groups. That’s about the same number of people who quit, retired or were made redundant in 2020.
[PREVIOUS: New Orleans PD hemorrhaging officers with little relief in sight]
The leaving thoughts of veteran officers and newbies lend biting and often moving detail to a recent NOPD-commissioned survey that reflected similar discontent, with pay far behind in the reasons given by officers for leaving en masse.
Overly punitive discipline and restrictive policies were nearly twice as likely to be cited as a reason for leaving agents than salary, according to the SSA Consultants survey.
Officers went further in their exit interviews, talking about crippling internal politics, dilapidated equipment, a lack of support from police officers, a disciplinary headhunting and, for many officers, little sign of an NOPD ready to solve its problems.
The exit interviews were provided by the city in response to a request for public records, with the names of the officers redacted. They are identifiable, however, through other information in the records.
“I can no longer watch citizens suffer from violence and crime while the department is not authorized to provide basic citizen protection service to this community,” wrote Nathan Gex, a 23-year-old NOPD veteran. years old who moved to sheriff of Jefferson Parish. Office in April. “People become police to make a difference and protect citizens. That’s not happening, and we hear and see it in the community.”
“It’s not about money. It’s about job satisfaction and appreciation,” wrote Joseph Brooks, a sergeant who resigned in March after 12 years. “The department has been in decline for some time. Disciplinary issues prevent staff from acting without fear of punishment. I would refuse to be bullied into punishing officers for minor infractions.”
Some, like Rotton, aired specific rebukes about incidents or supervisors that embittered them. Others hammered the department in broad strokes. A few retired veterans, including longtime police officers who left this year, gave the department high marks. Others refused to participate.
Amid a rise in homicides and carjackings, residents’ faith in a reduced police force has also plummeted. The loss of blood at the NOPD, exit interviews show, weighs on those who remain.
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“Sometimes you don’t have time to eat,” said a rookie officer who quit to go back to school.
Several officers who resigned this year after patrolling eastern New Orleans have described clocking in the Seventh District to a mountain of unattended 911 calls as police emergency response times continue to soar to decade highs.
“Working in the 7th precinct on ‘C’ platoon with only four officers on the streets with a backlog of 55 calls plus threats of (discipline) if assessments and training weren’t done is ridiculous,” Willie wrote. Herron, who wrote that he was jumping to St. Tammany Parish after less than two years.
“Due to night work I never see my family. I was in the 7th and the backlog was unbearable,” wrote Meghan Silva, who stepped down as an officer after two years.
In recent months, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city council have pushed to revive an officer recruiting drive that faltered during the pandemic, while offering handsome sums to keep officers.
This week, the city council approved a plan to help stem attrition with big bonuses for officers and other public safety officers. A year from now, officers are set to receive $5,000 for every five years of service, up to $20,000.
Still, in their exit interviews, officers generally praised the NOPD’s pay, benefits, and academic background, while looking at the department’s culture.
Joshua Fontenot, a senior police officer who resigned after seven years, wrote that “the NOPD’s pension system and salaries are incredible”, but that “cronyism is rampant”.
Fontenot took the side of scorched earth in the space marked with suggestions: “Fire everyone, dissolve the department and start over.
NOPD federal watchdogs weren’t so desperate, praising department heads for dramatic progress toward compliance across all areas of the reform accord.
However, it remains unclear when U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan plans to release the department from court oversight. In April, Morgan was planning a phase-out that would begin in June. This calendar passed without public action.
(c)2022 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer
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