Police officers leaving New Orleans PD in droves could cost the city millions in fines
The city of New Orleans has lost so many officers that it now faces a major fine to cover police pension losses that could top $38 million over the next 15 years
By David Hammer
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans has lost so many police officers that it now faces a major fine to cover police pension losses that could top $38 million over the next 15 years.
City Council Vice President Helena Moreno said she was shocked to learn this week that the Municipal Police Employee Retirement System considers the NOPD “partially dissolved,” for both 2021 and 2022. That triggered a state law that requires the city to pay back the police pension fund for unfunded liabilities — in other words, money the city would have been paying into the system if it hadn’t lost any officers.
MPERS confirmed the city made its first monthly payment of $50,314.10 earlier this month. The only way for the city to escape future payments would be to restore staffing to the 1,119 employees that participated in the pension system in June 2021.
“There’s really no wiggle room here, other than to get the numbers up,” said Executive Director Ben Huxen. “We support New Orleans and want them to get more police officers and not have to make the payments.”
A letter by the MPERS’ actuary in March states that New Orleans partially dissolved its police force in 2021 by losing more than 50 officers that fiscal year. Now, because it lost more than 50 officers in the 2022 fiscal year, it will owe another $163,798.57 per month starting in July 2024, for a total of more than $214,000 per month. Moreno said that will add up to a total bill of $38 million over 15 years.
Moreno said Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration gave the City Council no warning that it would have to budget for the fines. She also said the city made no effort to change the law governing the pension system to see if the city could avoid the fines.
“What I’m very frustrated about is that I was not, nor were any councilmembers, alerted to this by the administration,” Moreno said. “As to, like, ‘Wait a second, this major thing is coming our way, we need to figure out a path here.’”
Police officers rely on the pension system for their retirement. The state law was passed to protect against a loss of funds if a city or town slashed its department or farmed out its public safety duties. Donovan Livaccari, of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he supports those protections for the pension fund but worries the law didn’t envision what has happened at the NOPD.
“They put rules like this in place to keep municipalities from purposely reducing their contributions,” Livaccari said. “But the city of New Orleans is not moving employees out of MPERS to reduce its contributions. This is at least partially the fallout from the pandemic.”
New Orleans has been losing officers to retirement and other departments for years. It had 1,600 commissioned officers before Hurricane Katrina and dropped to below 1,200 over the next decade. The NOPD never overcame the attrition it suffered after a hiring freeze imposed by former Mayor Mitch Landrieu more than 10 years ago.
But Huxen said 2021 was the first time that a large city in Louisiana owed fines for losing more than 50 participating employees in a single year.
It’s now happened two years in a row in New Orleans. An actuarial report released in March by the New Orleans Employees’ Retirement System said the city was one of four Louisiana municipalities that partially dissolved its police department in 2022, when the NOPD lost 138 employees.
At the end of the 2021 fiscal year, the NOPD had 1,119 officers participating in the pension system. By the end of June 2022, that number had dropped to 981. It continued to decrease steadily throughout fiscal year 2023 and is expected to fall below 900 commissioned officers for the first time.
The other three towns that partially dissolved their police forces — Homer, Port Vincent and Georgetown — have tiny departments of five officers or fewer, so losing one or two employees triggered a fine because it depleted each of their forces by more than 40%.
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