Four New Orleans police captains and one major, banished for years to a FEMA trailer in City Park where they review minor complaints against other officers, must be demoted to lieutenant or laid off unless the Police Department can find jobs for them worthy of their rank by Oct. 16, the Civil Service Department told NOPD brass this week.
There is no indication that the city intends to return the out-of-favor cops to key posts in the department, having fought for years to keep that from happening.
In a letter to interim NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison, Civil Service Director Lisa Hudson said Thursday that the work the five do is being reallocated to lieutenant positions and that “the police major position and the police captain positions are effectively abolished as a result of the reallocation.”
Hudson gave the new police chief two weeks to decide what to do with the five high-ranking cops, who landed in former Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ doghouse more than three years ago and have never emerged.
The group is dubbed the Administrative Support Unit, but some members have taken to calling themselves “trailer trash” for their makeshift office outfitted with discarded hotel furniture beside the old police horse stables.
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 seemingly 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.
The city has since given no indication it plans to find more appropriate jobs for them.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said the department just received the letter from Civil Service.
“The chief is reviewing it with the city attorney,” he said. “We’re still just kind of reviewing our options and what next steps we can take with it.”
Once eight members strong, the group now includes Capts. Bruce Adams, Bruce Little, Fred Morton and Michael Glasser, the president of the Police Association of New Orleans, and Maj. Raymond Burkart Jr.
Their attorneys call the decision to banish them to make-work jobs the end result of a controversial move by Serpas in 2011 to set up a new tier of police “commanders” — a title that did not equate to a particular rank in the civil service system.
Serpas then moved lieutenants into several of those posts in a leapfrog move that rankled police officer groups, who called it an end-around of the civil service system.
While the new commanders took over the high-profile jobs of managing the eight police districts and other NOPD units, the “trailer trash” were assigned to much less glamorous work: investigating officers accused of lying, failing to show up in court or other low-level offenses. They were given the job title of “integrity control officers.”
Eric Hessler, a PANO attorney, called the impending decision a bellwether for what he described as a power grab in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s campaign for civil service reform.
“I don’t know why the mayor would do anything but demote them, because that’s his intention, to make the civil service system a relic and reinstitute political appointments,” Hessler said. “That’s exactly what happened with the commanders. In the near future, you’ll see him ask for the position of assistant commanders, and he’ll be able to appoint anybody he chooses. Their intention is to hand-pick yes-men and lapdogs.”
Any demotions for the officers likely would spur a new round of legal fighting, with claims of retaliation.
The wording of Hudson’s letter created some confusion, with some wondering whether it meant the city is eliminating all captain and major positions in the NOPD. Hudson could not be reached for clarification.
“It’s our interpretation that they’re referring to the people that are involved in the suit,” Gamble said.
Currently there are 15 police captains and one major — Burkart. The city’s 2014 budget lists 21 police captain positions and two major spots. The department has not moved to fill the vacant budgeted slots.
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