New Orleans police officers could make more than $70 an hour working some off-duty details under a proposal from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to raise the rates customers must pay for hard-to-fill security jobs.
Instead of $29.33 an hour for lower-ranking officers and up to $39 for top NOPD brass — the standard rates set by an ordinance adopted by the City Council just eight months ago — Landrieu’s new proposal would let the city charge some customers “plus” or “max” hourly rates.
The “plus” rate would range from $39 an hour for regular officers to $51 for captains and above, and the “max” rate would charge the customer $73 an hour, with $70.50 going to the officer, regardless of rank.
Deciding which jobs would get the higher rates would be up to the Office of Police Secondary Employment, an office set up in City Hall to coordinate off-duty details under the terms of a federal consent decree governing NOPD reforms that Landrieu and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed in 2012.
The higher rates would apply in cases where a lack of demand for the jobs by officers “jeopardizes public safety, the national reputation of the city of New Orleans as a world-class tourist and special events destination, or good governance,” a draft ordinance states.
The city also would offer a “super user discount” to businesses or events that schedule 100 or more hours of officer detail work. Cops who work 40 or more hours over two weeks would get a “super worker bonus.”
The federal consent decree limits officers to 24 hours per week of detail work — a maximum aimed at keeping them from overworking themselves while off duty.
The draft ordinance was sent out last week by retired Army Lt. Col. John Salamone, who heads up the new office under Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.
The proposal amounts to an admission that the city has found it difficult to meet the needs of many customers as it ramps up to handle all of the off-duty work that in the past was managed by the officers themselves.
The new system has prompted widespread griping on the force, and some job requests have gone unfilled as officers turned up their noses at the new city office and at pay that often has fallen short of what they made when they arranged their own deals and doled out work to fellow officers.
In one case, the city needed to get Justice Department approval to offer higher pay for a detail at a St. Patrick’s Day street party in the Irish Channel, even though the customer, Parasol’s, was willing to pay more.
The new tiered pay plan will help, Salamone said Monday.
“We were hamstrung. Officers were willing to work; customers were willing to pay. We just didn’t have the legal authority. We don’t want to stand in the middle with our hands tied by the (current) ordinance,” he said.
“Sometimes there’s a supply challenge, and one way to meet a supply challenge is to increase the price,” Kopplin added.
The proposed pay levels were set on the basis of a survey of 100 customers, asking what they paid officers under the old, officer-controlled system.
Those cop-run arrangements came under sharp attack in a scathing Department of Justice report in 2011 that found “few aspects of NOPD more broadly troubling” than the detail system. The report, which paved the way for the NOPD reform deal, took aim at purported corruption in an off-duty detail system where some officers allegedly prioritized detail work over on-duty policing.
The administration’s new proposal, which Kopplin called a work in progress, met with immediate criticism from an attorney for one organization of police officers, who said it could itself breed corruption in a different form. The city could jack up the pay rate whenever it wants, or officers could hold out together on certain jobs, waiting for the pay to rise, said Eric Hessler, who represents the Police Association of New Orleans.
“It’s like reading a contract between a hooker and his johns that the pimp wrote,” Hessler said.
“Clearly the city has written it where it’s benefiting them — too much discretion, too much room for abuse,” he said. “And if the police officers were smart, they’d withhold signing up for the detail until it was forced to go to a price that was maybe overly high.”
The plan, Hessler said, shows the city’s “primary concern in this whole detail debacle wasn’t corruption. It’s control. It’s sticking their hands in the officers’ pockets.”
Kopplin acknowledged that the goal is to bring on more customers for NOPD detail work, which has shrunk by more than half since police Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced an overhaul of the old scandal-ridden system in early 2011.
According to the city, the new office is generating more and more work, recently passing $100,000 in revenue for the first time in the two-week period ending April 19. But even though Kopplin described it as “quite a stunning growth trajectory,” he acknowledged that the new office is falling well below budget projections and far short of the goal of paying for itself through customers’ fees.
He estimated that the city will need to subsidize the office to the tune of $500,000 to $700,000 this year — money he said would come out of the budget for implementing the NOPD consent decree.
Kopplin said the plan is to offer a set pay rate to customers based on an assessment of demand.
“It’s not a negotiation. Most places where you go to buy things, you don’t name your price. They tell you what it costs, and you either buy it or don’t buy it,” Kopplin said of the tiered pricing plan.
The draft ordinance doesn’t specify when the office could charge customers the highest or “max” rate, although Salamone said it would be seldom.
“The max rate is for those situations where a customer is willing to pay whatever it takes to get an officer there, and when there is a really short supply of officers,” Salamone said.
“It might be used if a celebrity shows up in town and wants police protection and is willing to pay whatever it costs in spite of the fact it’s Lundi Gras or Mardi Gras. It’s for those folks who want nothing other than a New Orleans police officer,” not a private security guard or an employee of some other law-enforcement agency.
Though it was slated to be up and fully running in January, the new office has had a bumpy early road. With the court’s approval, it left some major 2014 events to be coordinated by officers themselves, such as the NBA All-Star Game, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, French Quarter Fest and the Crescent City Classic, among others.
In the meantime, deputies with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and other agencies have been picking up customers.
Kopplin said he hopes the new “flexible” pricing scheme will help match supply and demand for NOPD details.
But some don’t see it as much of a solution.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the new city office still prevents officers from competing for detail jobs.
Other agencies “know you have a fixed rate. They can undercut you, which further exacerbates the problem,” he said.
He said more officers are forgoing detail work in part because of a manpower shortage on the NOPD that has reduced the force from more than 1,500 officers to about 1,150 at last count. Many of those officers now are working overtime to fill empty police shifts rather than outside work details, Goyeneche said.
Donovan Livaccari, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, called the higher pay tiers “a good opportunity for the policemen who are working details to make some extra money.”
But he questioned whether the higher pay will attract more cops into a detail system that Kopplin said has put only 285 officers to work since the office started handing out details in earnest late last year.
“I think that some people are just disenchanted with the system at a level where it’s a matter of principle,” Livaccari said. “Whether or not they can overcome that with this plan still remains to be seen.”
Kopplin said he hopes to have a final version of the ordinance before the City Council for its May 8 meeting.
Melanie Talia, CEO of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, agreed with Goyeneche that the new pay plan isn’t likely to help the city compete more effectively for customers.
“The set pay rate still allows another agency to solicit business from that same vendor at a lower price,” Talia said. “They are trying to incentivize officers to work. I don’t think that overcomes the consumer and the dollar amount that comes out of the consumer’s picket.”
Talia also noted that for many customers, price is less of an issue than the mandatory rotation of regular officers from most NOPD details after a year.
Any change to the rotation system would need more than a City Council vote. The rule, which is aimed at ending cronyism under the old detail system, is mandated under the federal consent decree.