The newly created office to manage New Orleans police officers’ off-duty moonlighting violates both the Louisiana and U.S. constitutions, as well as provisions of the City Charter that put the Civil Service Commission in charge of city employee pay, a police association argues in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In the suit filed in Civil District Court, the Fraternal Order of Police asks a judge to void recently approved city ordinances establishing the office to coordinate police officers’ details and establishing the rules that office must follow in doling out the security work. Creation of the office was mandated by a federal consent decree approved earlier this year.
Another organization, the Police Association of New Orleans, filed its own challenge to the new office late last week with the Civil Service Commission.
Creation of the Office of Police Secondary Employment is designed to centralize the disbursement of the security work, which officers work at local stores, schools and events, and patrolling certain neighborhoods that pay for extra police presence. Previously, police officers themselves coordinated the details, although they had to file requests with the NOPD to get the work approved.
The U.S. Department of Justice famously labeled the detail system an “aorta of corruption” in the department, pointing out that lower-ranking officers could end up doling out off-duty assignments to their supervisors, essentially subverting the department’s chain of command. They also questioned whether some cops ended up giving their side work priority over official NOPD assignments.
But many cops have chafed at the new regulations, saying a fee to pay for running the office cuts into their wages and arguing the extra work is necessary to support their families, especially given the NOPD’s historically low wages compared to other big city departments.
In its lawsuit, the police organization argues that the ordinances violate state and federal constitutional provisions protecting contractual agreements between private parties. Further, the suit says the Louisiana Constitution forbids the government from seizing a business enterprise “for the purpose of operating that enterprise or halting competition with a government enterprise.”
In this case, the suit says, the business enterprise was the officers’ working off-duty paid details, and the new system has “the effect of taking away from the officers themselves the full value of their services.”
In a statement, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin countered that the police groups are actually hurting officers, noting that the NOPD is seeing fewer outside security gigs amid the uncertainty about the work.
“The police unions’ continued actions to stall these efforts hurt the rank-and-file police officers and interfere with the officers’ ability to make secondary income,” he said. “We are calling on PANO and FOP to join the city in ensuring that OPSE is successful as our officers depend on the extra income being threatened by these unnecessary challenges.”