NEW ORLEANS — In its fight against crime, this city is trying an unusual tactic: asking retired police officers to come back and work for free.
The New Orleans Police Department is making a push to beef up its reserve division as it struggles to deal with a shrunken force and an uptick in violent crime. So far this month there have been 12 homicides, crime data shows. That's six more than a year ago, police said.
On Thursday, police Superintendent Michael Harrison held a news conference asking former officers to help the city in this time of need.
"We're calling on former members of the police department to come home to NOPD," Harrison said. "This is an opportunity to make a difference in our community."
Reserve officers serve as unpaid volunteers but they are allowed to take lucrative off-duty police security jobs after they volunteer enough time.
The police say the reserve officers are used to patrol high-crime areas at night and to do special assignments. They are required to volunteer at least 24 hours a month.
The week started with the shooting death of a 17-year-old on his way to high school on Monday. Police said the boy was shot in a fight over a video game controller. Three other homicides took place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Crime has hit tourists, too. On Tuesday morning, an Irish police officer on vacation in New Orleans was shot and wounded during an armed robbery. About 1 million visitors are expected to come to New Orleans during this Carnival season and residents are calling on the police and city administration to do more to protect them.
Donovan Livaccari, a lawyer with the Fraternal Order of Police in New Orleans, called beefing up the reserve division "a Band-Aid like many other Band-Aids being applied" to fix the police department's staffing woes.
Although last year saw a reduction in the number of homicides, police say violent crime has been on the increase. A rash of armed robberies in the French Quarter since November prompted protests and pleas to Mayor Mitch Landrieu to do more to protect the city's prized tourist districts. Criminologists say crime such as armed robberies often take place because of a lack of police presence.
Calling on former officers to serve in the reserve division is one of several tactics the police department is using to increase its ranks. The force is recruiting new officers, setting up a civilian patrol and trying to reshuffle assignments in the department to get more officers on the streets.
The department has about 1,150 officers and has made it a goal to reach 1,600 officers. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the force had about 1,740 officers.
Police say there are about 70 officers in the reserve program now and that about 30 more officers are interested in becoming reserves.
The major incentive for a former officer to become a reserve officer is to be allowed to get paid for private security work provided by the city's police, known as police details. Businesses such as restaurants and hotels hire off-duty police officers to stand as guards at their establishments. The detail work is lucrative, paying between $29 an hour and $71 an hour. Reserve officers must work at least 36 hours a month to be eligible for the security work.
Associated Press Writer Kevin McGill contributed to this report.
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