Gregory Rotton’s career as an officer in the New Orleans Police Department ended in a crash.
Rotton, a First District detective, was hired to investigate after four young people in a stolen SUV drove into an arcade on St. Claude Avenue on January 12, with police chasing them and seriously injuring a worker.
Walking away a month later, after nearly seven years of service, Rotton said his superiors pressured him to accuse 19-year-old Lamar Logan, the only adult in the crash, of trying to shoot a minutes earlier Robbing federal agents in Treme. Rotton argued that the off-duty agent’s account was “at most an incident involving a suspicious person.” He said he was then quickly snapped out of an election assignment.
“I refuse to work for any agency where I can be punished for upholding my oath and the rule of law,” Rotton wrote in a letter to the ministry.
His report is one of hundreds of pages of interviews about exiting officers reviewed by The Times-Picayune, a thick pile mostly filled with scathing criticism for a department struggling to find and retain officers.
The interviews are from officers who resigned or retired in 2022, many of whom are leaving for jobs with other police departments. Together, their farewell shots echo with a chorus of despair from an overwhelmed, discouraged troupe as they now enter their second decade under government oversight.
When former Mayor Mitch Landrieu and then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced the sweeping federal consent decree at Gallier Hall on July 24, 2012, the department employed more than 1,300 commissioned officers with a budget of 1,600 and plans to redesign the NOPD in the picture shape the reform.
Now fewer than 1,000 officers remain, after a net loss of one in six officers since early last year. As of early July this year, more than 90 have left the force, according to police officer groups. That’s about the same number who quit, retired, or laid off throughout 2020.
The parting thoughts of veteran officers and newcomers lend scathing and often emotional detail to a recent survey commissioned by the NOPD, which reflected similar dissatisfaction.
According to the SSA Consultants survey, excessive discipline and restrictive policies were nearly twice as likely to be cited as reasons for officer departures than pay.
Officials went further in their exit interviews, speaking of crippling domestic politics, decrepit equipment, a lack of police support, disciplinary headhunting and, for many officials, little evidence that a NOPD is ready to address their problems.
The exit interviews were provided by the city in response to a request for public records, with the officers’ names redacted. However, they are identifiable from other information in the records.
“I can no longer stand by and watch as citizens suffer from violence and crime while the department is not performing the vital service of protecting the citizens of this community,” wrote Nathan Gex, a 23-year-old NOPD veteran turned Jefferson Parish Sheriff changed office in April. “People become police officers to make a difference and protect citizens. That’s not happening and we hear and see it in the community.”
“It’s not about the money. It’s about job satisfaction and appreciation,” wrote Joseph Brooks, a sergeant who resigned in March after 12 years. “The department has been in decline for some time. Disciplinary issues prevent staff from performing without fear of punishment. I would refuse to be pressured into punishing officers for minor offenses.”
Some, like Rotton, made specific complaints about incidents or supervisors that upset them. Others pounded the department in big strokes. A few retired veterans, including some longtime police officers who departed this year, gave the department high marks. Others declined to participate.
Amid an increase in homicides and car thefts, residents’ confidence in a downsized police force has also dwindled. The exit interviews show that the loss of blood in the NOPD weighs heavily on those who remain.
“Sometimes there’s no time to eat,” said a recent officer who gave up his education to go back to school.
Several officers who resigned this year after patrolling eastern New Orleans described arriving at a mountain of unattended 911 calls in the seventh precinct, with police emergency response times remaining at decade highs.
“It’s ridiculous to be working in the 7th Precinct on the C platoon with only four officers on the streets with a backlog of 55 calls plus threats of (discipline) if the assessments and training weren’t done,” wrote Willie Herron , who wrote that he jumped into St. Tammany Parish after less than two years.
“Because of the night work, I never see my family. Was in 7th and the backlog was unbearable,” wrote Meghan Silva, who retired after two years as an officer.
In recent months, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city council have been pushing to revive an officer recruitment campaign that has failed due to the pandemic, while offering tidy sums to retain officers.
This week, the city council approved a plan to stem the attrition of heavy bonus payments to officers and other public safety workers. In a year, officers are to receive $5,000 for every five years of service, up to $20,000.
However, in their exit interviews, officers generally praised the NOPD’s pay, benefits, and academy training while panning about departmental culture.
Joshua Fontenot, a senior police officer who has resigned after seven years, wrote that the NOPD’s “pension system and pay is amazing” but that “nepotism is rife”.
Fontenot took a scorched-earth approach to the proposals: “Fire everyone, disband the department and start over.”
Federal NOPD supervisors weren’t nearly as desperate, lauding department heads for dramatic progress towards compliance on all areas of the reform agreement.
However, it is still unclear when US District Judge Susie Morgan intends to relieve the department of court oversight. In April, Morgan predicted an exit that would begin in June. This schedule has expired with no public action.