Seven out-of-favor New Orleans police captains and one major, relegated for years to a FEMA trailer in City Park where they pass the time reviewing paperwork and doing other menial chores, won a ruling Friday from the city’s Civil Service Commission that essentially requires department brass to either return them to their former duties or demote them.
The group, dubbed the Administrative Support Unit by Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, took to calling itself the NOPD’s “trailer trash” and threw itself into challenging Serpas’ efforts to reorganize the department with a new structure that they said was an end-run around the civil service system. In large part, the new structure involved the promotion of a number of officers to the new position of “police commander,” a title that did not equate to a particular rank in the civil service system.
While the new commanders took over the high-profile jobs of managing the eight police districts, the captains in the Administrative Support Unit 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.”
Capt. Michael Glasser, one of the officers involved and also the head of the Police Association of New Orleans, said last year that the officers who were shunted to the unit shared the view they were being punished for failing to toe the line and were kicked to the NOPD curb in hopes they would leave the force. The group last year won a ruling from the Civil Service Commission granting them 10 percent pay raises like those given to members of the Public Integrity Bureau on the basis that they were performing similarly “unpleasant tasks.”
The Civil Service Department followed that with a report saying the work the NOPD had assigned to the captains and major — who collectively boast more than 250 years of experience on the force — was essentially beneath them.
It was that report that led to Friday’s ruling, in which the commission agreed that the work assigned to the eight plaintiffs was better suited to sergeants and lieutenants. To remedy that, the commission said, the captains should either be demoted or given work “consistent with the rank of captain (or major).”
Eric Hessler, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the ruling was a clear victory for his clients, and he criticized the department for the shabby way it has treated them.
“It’s quite clear that these captains and the major were doing this low-level work in an attempt to force them off the job,” Hessler said. “The city stated early on that the new position of commander was going to be paid for with the savings from attrition” after other high-ranking officers left.
“You had captains and majors with hundreds of years of experience stuck in trailers reviewing paperwork,” he continued. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of experience, and God knows we need that now.”
Hessler said that if the Landrieu administration appeals the rulings, it would waste more time and money. Demoting the officers would be “akin to writing them a blank check for retaliation damages ... and I don’t think they would risk doing that,” he said.
Tyler Gamble, an NOPD spokesman, said by email late Friday that the department believes it has already “substantially” complied with the ruling.
“Several weeks ago, Chief Serpas realigned the assignments of these officers,” he said. “The police commander was removed, the major is now reporting to the deputy superintendent and is supervising the captains. The captains are now monitoring and reviewing NOPD policies and how officers in the field are following those policies, and are no longer conducting internal affairs investigations as a primary duty. The realignment is in line with the duties of their respective ranks.”
Gamble said the administration does not plan to appeal the ruling.
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