After NOPD officers 'vent' over Mardi Gras pay, city promises to pay higher wage
The city will now pay most NOPD officers at least the same $50 per hour wage that they had offered to the auxiliary officers
By Doug Maccash
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — After days of behind-the-scenes wrangling, Carnival krewe captains and city officials said Thursday they are getting closer to solving the puzzle of how to provide enough police protection to allow all Carnival parades to follow their original routes, which were shortened in 2022.
Key to that success was a decision announced by Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration Wednesday to pay New Orleans Police Department officers who are assigned to parades as much or more as the supplementary officers the city plans to hire to augment its depleted police force.
Meanwhile, Carnival krewes, which are responsible for rounding up qualified law enforcement officers from across the state, report that the goal seems to be coming into reach.
Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said late Wednesday that the city will pay most NOPD officers at least the same $50 per hour wage that City Hall has offered to the auxiliary officers recruited by the krewes. If they work Fat Tuesday, NOPD officers will be paid the $75 per hour wage offered to police from other jurisdictions, he said.
The extra compensation will cost taxpayers be between $700,000 and $1 million, and will come from the city's reserves, Montaño said.
Police shortage leads to parade pruning
Due to a shortage of police officers and other service personnel last year, the lengths of all of the city's parade paths were shortened. In October, the city announced that the routes would remain trimmed this Carnival season, to the dismay of parade fans and affected business owners.
Then, on Jan. 6 — the official start of the Mardi Gras season — Cantrell announced that the krewes would be encouraged to search the state for trained officers to aid in crowd control, thereby allowing the full routes to be restored.
Those officers would be paid by the city and would be housed at public expense. At meeting of the Mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Council a week later, city officials announced that the extra police officers would recieve $50 per hour, rising to $75 on Fat Tuesday.
But it was only this week that the city committed to an equal or better compensation for its own officers.
Eric Hessler, a retired NOPD sergeant who is now the attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans, said Thursday he was happy the issue has been resolved.
He called the former disparity in pay, which caused grousing among many on the force, "a predicament" for the city. The offer of enhanced pay "will go a long way to avoid it," he said.
"I think police officers will appreciate it," Hessler said.
City Council member Lesli Harris, whose District B is home is bisected by the vast majority of the city's float parades, also said Thursday she was thrilled to hear of the additional pay.
"This is a well-deserved win for NOPD officers who will be on the front line throughout Carnival," she said. "I've been fighting for this increase for months."
Meanwhile, the co-chairs of the Mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Council, an organization composed of the leaders of the city's parades, said Cantrell, Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson and NOPD Superintendent Michelle Woodfork had made "significant progress" toward finding enough qualified officers to restore the pre-2022 routes.
"While work remains to be done over the coming days on the finer points of the arrangements and final agreement, we are optimistic that through their leadership, cooperation, and goodwill, they will make the safe restoration of traditional parade routes for Carnival 2023 a reality for our community," read a statement from Elroy A. James, president of Zulu, and James J. Reiss III, executive vice president of Rex.
Playing it fair
Montaño said Wednesday he was aware that NOPD rank-and-file officers had raised concerns in recent days that City Hall's search for enough outside cops to extend parades back to their traditional routes would short-change the local force.
According to the salary calculator on NOPD's recruitment page, officers' hourly pay starts at roughly $28 per hour for rookies, and rises to $68 per hour for a deputy chief with 19 years experience. Even with holiday pay and potential overtime, NOPD officers would be paid less than their non-NOPD counterparts for the same time on the job.
Montaño said that the city planned to even out the pay. But it wasn't possible to simply increase NOPD officers' hourly wages due to civil service rules. Civil Service director Amy Trepagnier eventually agreed an increase was warranted because police assigned to parade duty will be asked to supervise officers from external agencies.
Officers on the routes will receive an extra $26 an hour, which, when added to their regular salary, will exceed the $50 hourly wage paid to the supplemental officers. The extra pay will not be given to recruits because they will not be called on to supervise auxiliary officers.
NOPD officers not officially assigned to work during parades will be allowed to take parade details on their off days or outside of their usual hours, for up to $68 per hour.
Montaño said there are two other elements in the city's plan to raise salaries during Carnival. If approved by the Civil Service Department and City Council, the Cantrell administration wants to give a 10 percent increase in wages to all of those who provide parade services, including workers in the Sanitation Department, Parks and Parkways, the Fire Department, and other agencies. The increase would apply only during Mardi Gras season.
That means even NOPD officers who are located far from the parade routes might see an uptick in pay.
Money well spent
Montaño said the wage plan will be paid for with taxpayer money in the city's fund balance, a sort of rainy day reserve. But he considers it money well spent.
"This is an investment," he said, "considering the amount the city receives from Mardi Gras."
The city, he added, is "doing very well financially."
If the process of securing extra police protection is a success, it may be a model for future big events, such as Super Bowls, Montaño said. Plus, there's a certain collective emotional benefit to returning the parades to their former routes.
"There is just a prioritization of the benefits of normalcy to everybody," he said. An "unspoken comfort."
Rico Alvendia, the Captain of the Legion of Mars, said he thinks the city's officers deserve the extra pay. No parading group is more simpatico with the city's decision to raise NOPD wages during Carnival than Mars, which is composed of first responders, military servicemen and women, law enforcement personnel, and their families.
"Of course we're excited to hear that NOPD will be paid the same or more," he said.
The parade, Alvendia said, "is a way of us saying thanks, and to boost morale." In his view the city's salary hike does the same.
"You know what it boils down to," Alvendia said, "we need to let NOPD officers know they're appreciated."
NEXT: New Orleans' depleted police force brings unique challenges during Mardi Gras
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