NOLA Coalition Gives Update on Public Safety Efforts
NEW ORLEANS — On Feb. 7, approximately 75 members of the NOLA Coalition gathered for a press conference and progress report outside the offices of Impetus Construction in the 1700 block of Tchoupitoulas Street.
At times competing with the roar of nearby 18 wheelers, eight speakers discussed the six-month-old coalition’s efforts to improve public safety in the city and create more opportunity for young people.
The goal of the alliance — a diverse group of nonprofits, civic organizations and businesses — is to rally public support for the New Orleans Police Department while also raising $15 million over the next three years to support youth services in the city.
“Today is a celebration of the Power of unity, which I think you’re seeing behind us very much,” said Greater New Orleans Inc. CEO Michael Hecht, one of the group’s organizers. “But it’s also a sober reflection that we still have a long, long way to go until we achieve a city with peace and prosperity for all of our residents.”
In regard to supporting NOPD, the coalition’s efforts are mostly limited to lobbying city leaders to take action, but Greg Rusovich, chairman of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the coalition has already been a powerful and effective voice advocating for much-needed policy changes.
He cited several wins, including a 5% pay raise for NOPD officers, $30 million allocated for recruitment and retention, and $46 million for vehicles, equipment and technology. Rusovich also applauded Mayor LaToya Cantrell for agreeing to conduct a nationwide search for the city’s next police superintendent.
“We started this coalition by recognizing that our brave men and women in blue needed more support, technology and manpower,” he said. “Citizens deserve a fully-staffed police department that can carry out true community policing — and constitutional, proactive policing.”
Rusovich said that the coalition also supported the New Orleans City Council’s decision to allow the use of facial recognition technology “with appropriate guardrails.”
The coalition has already raised a third of its $15 million, three-year goal to fund youth services. And funds have already been distributed to 30 different organizations. Major donors to the cause include International-Matex Tank Terminals, the Palmisano Foundation, Entergy, Gulf Coast Bank, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, T. Parker Host, the Baptist Community Foundation, the Rusovich Foundation, Jones Walker, Press Kabacoff, Gibbs Construction and Verizon.
“All the funds raised were new dollars,” said Otis Tucker, owner of Trucking Innovation. “There was no doubling down on counting of existing funds.”
During his remarks, attorney Richard Cortizas, a partner at Jones Walker, marveled at how quickly the coalition has become a force for change.
“This is one of the largest and most diverse groups ever to come together in New Orleans, and you can see it standing right behind us,” he said. “When we started out six months ago, we thought we might get just a few dozen groups signing on, and that would be enough. But by the time we got to our first press conference last July we were up to 75 members. Today, we’re at over 500 members made of civic, neighborhood and business organizations, coming together with one voice and unified to help improve public safety and to communicate support for our law enforcement personnel, as well as advocate for smart policies on youth intervention.”
Cortizas said those 500 organizations represent thousands of employees and their families who are “united by love of our city, love of each other and love of our children.”
Despite all the optimism at the event, there was also acknowledgement that New Orleans has a long way to go. In addition to addressing problems with the entire criminal justice system, the city still needs to stop the attrition at NOPD, which lost another 10% of its officers in 2022.
Jim Cook, the general manager of the Sheraton New Orleans, also leads the Business Council of New Orleans Criminal Justice Task Force. He told the crowd that the recruitment efforts have to be ramped up to keep up with the losses.
“A big win would be filling each of our academy classes this year,” he said. “We just started a class with, I believe, 19 cadets. And we could have had 30 to create a full class. … On an annual basis, 150 new recruits should be our target when we compare it to the amount of typical attrition between 70 and 80 officers a year.”