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Mayor, police chief barraged with questions about NOPD detail scandal

23rd May 2011   ·   0 Comments

A gathering designed to allow New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Superin­tendent Ronal Serpas to unveil a new plan for dealing with off-duty details and to discuss crime-related issues took an unexpected turn Monday when the two men were hit with a barrage of questions about the ongoing NOPD traffic camera scandal.

The crime summit, an empowerment session for the Cops, Clergy and Community Coalition (CCCC), was held Monday at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. The CCCC was unveiled in October of 2010 following the shooting death of two-year old Jeremy Galmon.

After opening remarks during which Landrieu talked about how the wave of violence is mostly affecting young Black men, he mentioned the recent traffic camera ticket scandal as part of his administration’s effort to reform the police department.

The reference to the traffic camera ticket scandal seemed to stir those in attendance, especially New Orleans businessman Mike Drummett, who told Landrieu and Serpas, “We want the truth, we want somebody we can trust, we wanthe answers. We don’t want a speech. I respect you, I’m sorry I’m disrupting it, but I can’t stomach this.”

While the mayor decided to answer questions from the audience about the NOPD’s off-duty detail controversy, Serpas told residents that he couldn’t answer the pointed questions until the investigation had run its course.

“When those investigations are done and those results are final we will know everything,” Serpas said.

“I thought it was unfortunate that the initial opportunity for the public to question the mayor and superintendent had to occur under those conditions,” Danatus King told The Louisiana Weekly. “But I’m glad that the public did get an opportunity at that time to ask questions of the mayor and the superintendent.

“The initial responses were somewhat vague but eventually the superintendent gave a definitive answer to the question as to when did he become aware of the details and his son-in-law and driver’s involvement,” King continued. “The mayor also gave definitive answers to those questions.

“Now, let the investigation continue. If there’s any confirming or contradictory information,” let the chips fall where they may, King added.

“Right now, there’s a lot of sentiment that it’s hard to believe that the chief didn’t know about it until — as the chief stated — he received the report,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “There are a lot of folks in the community who find that hard to believe and are of the opinion that if indeed he didn’t know anything about his driver’s, son-in-law’s and the father of his godchild’s involvement until after a period of several months, then that shows a deficiency in the superintendent.”

Serpas said that a key component of the proposed changes to the NOPD detail system would be the removal of the management of police details from the NOPD and placing it under a soon-to-be-created independent Office of Police Detail Services.

Other proposed changes Serpas introduced Monday include the following:

• Eliminating direct payments to officers from detail employers.

• Fairly assigning officers to work details.

• Ending the practice of paying officers to coordinate details.

• Setting the detail pay uniformly according to rank and include a reasonable fee to cover the cost to the city.

• Mandating a six-hour rest period between the end of a detail shift and the start of an NOPD shift, and setting a 76-hour limit on the total number of hours an officer can work in a week, including regular shifts, overtime and details.

• Prohibiting split shifts.

• Improving supervision of officers working details by increasing supervisory staffing within the OPDS and linking to Public Integrity Bureau.

• Prohibiting detail services for city agencies and its political subdivisions.

“The police department needs to be out of this business completely. We need to be focused on our crime-fighting mission,” Serpas told reporters. “What we’re talking about today is a complete game-changer in the way we do paid details.”

The mayor said he expected some resistance to the changes from some members of the NOPD. “There’s gonna be a lot of yelling and screaming about, you know, ‘You’re taking away my detail,’” Landrieu said.

While Serpas said the changes would be implemented within 90 days of being approved, Mayor Landrieu said he would seek input from the Department of Justice and the New Orleans City Council before implementing the changes to the detail system.

Chief Serpas reportedly told New Orleans radio station WIST Thursday that he first became aware of possible problems with the off-duty police detail system about six months ago.

“I knew (8th District Commander Ed) Hosli was hired by the (New Orleans) department of public works at the end of November when we had a transition meeting with them,” Serpas told WIST.

The superintendent also told the radio station that he has now identified eight or nine officers who violated the NOPD’s detail policy.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of the New Orleans chapter of the New York-based National Action Network, says Monday’s confrontation with Mayor Landrieu was long overdue. “I believe he made a bad choice when he picked Ronald Serpas to serve as police chief,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly.

“First of all, Serpas was not fair with the public. He claims he did not know that his son-in-law was working for this company or that this company was owned by his best friend,” Brown continued. “What that did was put doubt in the minds of many people that Serpas is a genuine leader. The mayor should have at least put Serpas on administrative leave until the investigation into the crime camera ticket scandal had been resolved. But the mayor chose to stick by Serpas, which angered many in the Black community and led to the screaming and shouting that took place at Monday’s meeting. People are tired of being fed lines by elected officials; they want the truth.”

Brown said residents and activists were also angered by the NOPD’s inability to get a handle on the current crime wave which has the city on pace to experience another record-setting murder rate. “That’s mostly affecting Blacks and many Black leaders feel that as long as the white community is not experiencing the crime wave like Blacks, Serpas is comfortable,” Brown said. “Blacks are experiencing the brunt of the murders and chaos that are taking place in the city.”
Brown added that nothing he has seen or heard convinces him that Chief Serpas has a plan in place to deal with the escalating violence that is plaguing communities of color in New Orleans.

Brown doesn’t think that any of the community’s trust issues with the Landrieu administration were resolved by Monday’s faceoff with the mayor and police chief. “People feel the same way that they felt before the meeting — that Serpas is incompetent and isn’t doing very much to address the needs and grievances of the Black community in New Orleans,” Brown said.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article was originally published in the May 23, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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