Lost amid the move this week to reassign 22 New Orleans police officers to the streets from places such as Municipal Court and administrative jobs at the Police Department was this: The “trailer trash” cops are back in the game.
Relegated for two years to former NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ doghouse — a FEMA trailer parked by the old horse stables in City Park — a handful of veteran captains and one major were quietly reassigned this month to new “field supervisor” posts.
The move was prompted by their successful challenge before the Civil Service Commission of job duties that left the high-ranking police brass reviewing mostly low-level allegations against fellow officers.
They argued that the work was menial and unbecoming for officers who once commanded police districts and other key NOPD sections. Civil Service agreed, and in October, the commission ordered new Police Superintendent Michael Harrison to either demote them, lay them off or find them jobs worthy of their stripes.
The first two options came with legal perils, so in a Nov. 26 letter to Civil Service Director Lisa Hudson, Harrison said he was creating the field supervisor positions and assigning the veteran police brass to fill in on late-night supervision of “major incidents, critical investigations and media inquiries.”
Capt. Michael Glasser, one of the “trailer trash” and also president of the Police Association of New Orleans, said he and his colleagues are now responding to crime scenes citywide in their new gigs.
“It’s a better job; there’s no two ways,” Glasser said. “It’s good to be out in the street, and it’s good to be going out on calls and not sitting behind a desk making paper airplanes.”
What began as a group of eight in the trailer two years ago had been whittled to six by retirements.
Along with Glasser, Capt. Fred Morton, Capt. Bruce Adams and Maj. Raymond Burkart are doing the new work. Capt. Bruce Little was reassigned last week to narcotics, and Capt. Heather Kouts, a former 4th District commander, was moved in the fall to the NOPD’s federal consent decree compliance bureau.
The work they were doing in the trailer has been reassigned to lower-level district supervisors, Glasser said.
He said the field supervisors are helping fill a void left by a dearth of lieutenants on the force, which is suffering from a steep manpower shortfall.
Glasser complained that the new work still doesn’t fit with their high ranks. He also said the current NOPD structure, with lieutenants as commanders of the eight police districts, leaves the captains and major ultimately answering to lower-ranked officers.
“It still does not fulfill the role a police captain is supposed to be. We still have zero subordinates, no command,” he said. “But we’re happy to be contributing in some fashion.”
Under Serpas, the group had been dubbed the Administrative Support Unit, though some members took to calling themselves “trailer trash” for their makeshift office outfitted with discarded hotel furniture.
Together, they challenged their inglorious assignments and won.
First, the Civil Service Commission granted them 10 percent pay raises like those given to members of the Public Integrity Bureau for tasks deemed “unpleasant.”
They won again with a ruling in August that required the department to either return them to their former duties or demote them. The city had long argued that the trailer work was in line with the officers’ ranks.
Glasser said the group will continue to fight for more appropriate jobs.
“We are looking at it to make sure we agree it’s consistent with the responsibilities of a captain,” said Hudson, the Civil Service Department director. “We’re still in the process of evaluating it.”
The officers landed in Serpas’ bad graces in different ways. Several are former district chiefs who were kicked to the curb as Serpas set up a new commander tier in 2011, leapfrogging lieutenants into many of the 16 commander posts, which technically do not amount to a new rank.
To the high-ranking cops and their attorneys, the fight was for more than an escape from the trailer, though. It was a battle over the integrity of civil service rules that are supposed to protect police and other city employees from the political and personal whims of department leaders.
For critics of those rules, however, the trailer was a symptom of archaic restrictions that hamper the city’s ability to jettison employees who don’t meet muster.
That symbol remains. While they serve in their new posts, Glasser said, they remain temporarily in the trailer pending orders to return to headquarters.
“Still in the trailer,” Glasser lamented, “and still not in command.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.