NOPD Struggling to Reinvent Itself

The Associated Press
Friday, November 30, 2007; 12:39 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Det. Sheila Celious has less than an hour to give members of Cadet Class 159 an overview of domestic violence policing, so she doesn't mince words.

"There was a Russian proverb that says, `A woman isn't a jug. She won't crack if you hit her 10 times,'" she tells the New Orleans Police recruits arrayed before her in their white buttoned-downs and blue cargo pants. Of the 65 who started at the Municipal Training Academy back in July, 59 have made it this far.

Nervous chuckles fill the darkened lecture hall but they are quickly stifled as a Polaroid of a woman's face, bruised and battered, flashes on the screen behind Celious.

For the next 45 minutes, the NOPD veteran runs the recruits through various street scenarios, quizzing them on municipal codes and state statutes.

As the lights come up and the cadets gather up their manuals, Celious has one last message for them.

Cadet Class 159 is the largest in the NOPD's history, but these recruits aren't just warm bodies rebuilding ranks gutted by hurricane Katrina. They bear another, perhaps heavier burden: That of helping rehabilitate a department whose image was tarnished even before Katrina's muck settled over the "Big Sleazy."

"It takes a long time to gain the public's and citizens' trust," she tells them. "Do the right thing."

Just like the city it serves, the NOPD is still struggling to come back from the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.

Before the hurricane, the force had more than 1,700 officers. Desertions, defections, retirements and even suicides slashed that number by more than 30 percent.

Counting recently graduated cadets, the rolls are just now topping 1,400.

Since last year, 300 Louisiana National Guard members and 60 state troopers have helped patrol some of the city's more deserted neighborhoods and beef up the uniformed presence in the French Quarter.

That cooperative agreement, already extended by two months, was scheduled to expire in mid-January. Gov.-Elect Bobby Jindal has said he intends to continue the aid, though he has not specified for how long.

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