In the past nine months, three New Orleans police officers havefallen in the line of duty. This is a high number compared torecent years. But despite these sad facts, New Orleans PoliceDepartment applicants have remained consistent, with a slightincrease, for the city once dubbed “The Murder Capital” of thenation. But it is not easy to get behind a New Orleans badge therecruitment process is so grueling that it knocks out 90 percent ofthe applicants.
In the lime-light
Many hurdles stand in the way of the NOPD recruiting new policeofficers, but New Orleans� reputation seems to be last onthat list. “Those who want to be police officers will join theforce regardless,” said Deputy Superintendent Marlon Defillo. “Youhave to want to do this work. New Orleans is a tourist city, so itsin the spotlight, and anything negative that happens here ismagnified a hundred times.”
Alva Simmons, George A. Tessier III and Latoya Johnson werekilled in the line of duty this year. This is extremely high andrare for the NOPD. The only years to have three or more deaths ofpolice officers prior to 2004 were 1900 and 1973, both having five,according to the City of New Orleans website.
Neisha Briggs, who is currently going through the recruitmentprocess, does not fear the streets of New Orleans. “I’m raising adaughter and I’m not afraid to be a police officer. If it’s my timeto go, then it’s my time to go,” explained Briggs. “Today, peoplecan get killed anywhere.”
The recruitment slogan for the NOPD says, “Not everyone can wearthis badge…Can You?” The recruitment department at the NOPD isactively reviewing applicants to fill the 200 vacant spots at thedepartment. But the NOPD keeps facing the same problem. “We havegotten an increase in interest, especially during the times of thepolice shootings. But most of the applicants can’t pass the tests,”said Elodia Blanco, vice president for programs and specialprojects for the NOPD.
Blanco handles the interested applicants. She is the first legin the intense process. She receives many phone calls, emails andletters from interested candidates located all over the world, suchas England and Japan. Every day Blanco’s office answers questionsand sends recruitment packets to NOPD hopefuls. “People with Ph.D.sand master’s degrees apply, but if you can’t pass the six or sevenstep process it doesn’t matter,” explained Blanco. And she’s right.Out of every 10 applicants, only one makes it through the wholeprocess to become a certified police officer.
Take the Challenge!
Before a applicant can be considered for the NOPD, he or shemust be at least 20-years-old, a U.S. citizen, possess a highschool diploma or G.E.D., and have a valid drivers license.
Next, a multiple-choice written exam awaits any candidate whostarts the Police Recruit Selection Process. The exam covers 14skills and abilities necessary to perform the job of a policeofficer. The exam covers written communication, oral comprehension,inductive reasoning and perceptual accuracy, just to name a few.After finishing the test, applicants are given a break, duringwhich their tests are scored, and receive their scores when theyreturn. If he or she passed, then the writing test is next.
The writing exam consists of watching two videos ofpolice-related incidents, which applicants have to take notesabout. After the video is over, the applicant uses their notes towrite a narrative report describing the incidents. They have to paycareful attention to grammar, spelling and capitalization. A teamof trained raters will then score the reports at a later date. Ifthe applicant passes, the NOPD will contact them and schedule abackground investigation.
To lie or not to lie
Now this is far from the ordinary background test. This is anall-encompassing-in your business-you smoked what-better have yourbills paid, type of background check. Not to mention that this isthe part of the test that loses the most applicants. “Our biggestchallenge with recruiting individuals is that they have a [bad]history and end up failing the background check,” said Defillo.
It is easy to see why too. The background is comprised of ninehard-hitting sections: polygraph test, written interview form, oraltaped interview, fingerprinting, urinalysis, employment recordcheck, credit record check, and reference check. The applicant alsofaces elimination for any drug use, except marijuana. But if theapplicant has used marijuana in the past three months, he or shewill be eliminated for that.
Briggs expressed that she thinks the background check iseffective, “People who shouldn’t be police officers are immediatelyweeded out; they talk to your friends, family and neighbors.” Bythe time this part of the process is over, the police departmentknows each applicant’s life story.
Psych your mind
If an applicant is clean enough to pass the background test theymove onto the psychological and medical exam. The medical examincludes a physical examination, spine x-ray, chest x-ray andpossibly a pulmonary function test (heart test), and EKG stresstest. Once completed, the NOPD hopeful has to take twomultiple-choice personality tests, the Minnesota Multi-PhasicInventory II and the California Personality Inventory. Apsychologist then determines if the applicant is sane enough tocarry a gun by evaluating these psychological tests, along with acompleted personal history form, and the background investigationreport. If both sections are deemed acceptable the applicant isfinally certified for possible hire. Yes, possible hire. The finaldecision is then up to the police department.
“The last thing you want is someone with a questionablebackground carrying a gun,” explained Defillo. “Law enforcement isthe only profession where someone can take away someone’s libertiesor life without punishment.” Not even a Supreme Court Judge can dothat.
Perk me up
So with strenuous tests like these, a 1 out of 10 passing rateis not so strange. But what is the NOPD doing to keep a steadysupply of applicants? Police recruiters visit military bases,universities, job fairs and big events like Super Bowl or EssenceFestival. Defillo even mentioned that a new media campaign willstart in January aimed at getting more recruits. One of the mosteffective ways that the NOPD pulls in recruits is by therecommendation of family members in protective service occupations.Briggs’ mother worked for the IRS and her grandfather was asheriff.
“The number one recruiting tool is the friends and family ofcandidates who are involved in law enforcement,” said police Lt.Richard Williams, Sr., the commander of the recruitment andapplication division. “They give the recruits support and personalinsight into the world of police officers.”
When it comes to salary, the NOPD is far from the top. Placeslike California, Texas, and Georgia offer salaries that can be up$10,000 more than what the NOPD pays. So there is constantcompetition among police departments to acquire and retain policeofficers. Police officers receive phenomenal training in NewOrleans and after they are certified, go to work at other placesthat pay more, according to Blanco. But the NOPD has a few perks uptheir sleeves. For college students, there is free or reducedcollege tuition. In addition, one can earn 21 college creditstoward criminal justice classes for their participation inrecruitment training classes.
Other perks include 100 percent of pay at retirement after 30years, 83 percent of pay after 25 years, paid sick and vacationleave, and group health, dental, and vision insurance. Policeofficers also become eligible for promotion after a probationaryperiod of six month to three years, according to the Bureau ofLabor Statistics. In a large department, such as New Orleans, apromotion may enable an officer to become a detective or specializein a certain type of police work. “I hope to become a detective inthe Homicide Department after a couple of years of service,” saidBriggs.
After 20 or 25 years, police officers are able to retire with apension. With salary wars the way they are, the salary for policeofficers should remain competitive. The Bureau of Labor Statisticsstates that the employment of police officers is expected to growfaster than the average for all occupations through 2012. So therewill always be a growing demand for police officers.
When asked if she had any advice for future recruits Briggsresponded, “Make sure this is what you really want to do. It’s nota rinky-dinky job; you affect people and communities.” Recruitslike Briggs are interested in helping people who are scared, andgetting to know the people in the zone she will patrol. She knowsthat building trust and relationships within the community is theonly way to activate the community to help battle crime.