After seven years without an across-the-board raise, New Orleans police officers should be accorded a 20 percent pay hike phased in over three years, according to a staff recommendation to the Civil Service Department.
But New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux sees a major flaw in the staff analysis — a failure to factor in pension costs.
The Department’s report, seven months in the making, responds to a February request by the Police Association of New Orleans. The association claimed that with pay schedules frozen since 2007, morale is way down, and the NOPD is losing officers to other police departments.
The staff report has been submitted to the full commission. Both the Civil Service Commission and the City Council must approve changes in the police pay plan.
The Civil Service Department staff came up with six options for officers’ salary increases. They range from bringing salaries into line with regional minimums to immediate pay increases of 10, 20 or 30 percent. Another option was to go to 30 percent, but phase it in over five years.
The staff’s recommendation — the 20 percent increase over three years — would entail an immediate 10 percent hike followed by 5 percent increases in the second and third years.
The report breaks down each option, detailing salary increases by officer classification, but does not include overall costs to the city. Personnel Director Lisa Hudson said it would be up to the City Council and mayor’s office to calculate the cost.
As of May 3, there were about 1,150 officers in the 10 pay classifications that would get raises, ranging from recruits to majors, according to information released by the Civil Service Department. A 20 percent increase in salary could cost the city $10 million a year.
The Landrieu administration did not respond to requests for comment on the proposed raises.
The survey found that regional minimum salaries were significantly higher than the current NOPD salaries — a point that the Police Association of New Orleans argued when filing its raise request in February.
Bringing salaries into line with regional minimums would increase police recruit pay by 7.5 percent, while sergeants’ would get a 26.25 percent bump and majors an additional 31.5 percent.
Police recruits in New Orleans now make $34,397 while the regional minimum stands at $37,908, according to the Civil Service Department. That’s based on pay in cities including Baton Rouge, Slidell, Kenner, Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Nashville. Officers classified as “Police Officer I,” the entry level position, take in $36,570; the regional minimum is $42,579.
Inspector General Quatrevaux said the staff report is flawed because it looks only at starting salaries, ignoring the cost of pension funding.
Retirement contributions, which are set by the state and paid by the city, currently stand at 31 percent of an officer’s salary. That’s money the city must come up with in addition to officers’ pay.
“How can you make an intelligent assessment if you’re ignoring 31 percent of the cost?” Quatrevaux said. “If they fail to look into retirement contributions, they’re very likely going to get the wrong answer.”
“I will certainly oppose any pay raise based on this analysis,” Quatrevaux added. “It’s such surface treatment of an important subject, it’s beyond belief.”
In 2014, the city budgeted $21.8 million for the state’s police pension fund. That means the recommended raise would cost the city another $3.3 million annually by the third year.
The city is facing a number of big bills in coming years to reform the jail and Police Department and to shore up the its firefighters’ pension fund. The city has budgeted money to pay for the Police Department expenses, but not the others.
Police Association president Mike Glasser said that while any raise will help, it remains to be seen whether the recommended 20 percent pay hike over three years will be enough to stem the tide of officer attrition.
Glasser said take-home pay for NOPD officers has been hit hard since the city, and now the courts, have taken charge of administering off-duty work by uniformed police officers hired by private employers. For decades, the off-duty assignments, called “details,” provided a lucrative addition to base salaries.
“We probably could have gone a little longer without a raise,” Glasser said, “if the details hadn’t been crippled the way they have been.”
The city acknowledged earlier this year that the detail work has shrunk by 50 percent or more since 2011, when scandal and a U.S. Department of Justice report led then-NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas to call for centralized coordination of a system that the DOJ deemed flagrantly corrupt.
The new, city-run arrangement is now mandated under a federal consent decree that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Attorney General Eric Holder signed in 2012. The police associations unsuccessfully sued in an effort to undo the changes.
Reporter Charles Maldonado contributed to this story.