The New Orleans City Council is asking the Department of Justice and U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to amend the New Orleans Police Department consent decree to remove a requirement that officers working regular off-duty details must rotate out of them after a year.
The rotation requirement was added to prevent abuses in the detail system, but it has drawn strong criticism from both officers and some customers who hire them.
The requirement was supposed to open up lucrative details to all NOPD officers, not just a favored few, and to prevent overly cozy relationships between customers and officers.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who authored the council resolution asking for an amendment to the agreement, said the mandate, “while perhaps rooted in good intentions,” is unnecessary and possibly dangerous.
Officers who work a given detail for a long period of time develop trusting relationships with their customers, become familiar with the surrounding neighborhood and, as a result, are better able to identify abnormal occurrences in the neighborhood, Guidry said.
“Many residents and businesses who hire NOPD officers for recurring details prefer to have someone who has an intimate knowledge of the environment in which they are working,” she said. “The rotation requirement inhibits the ability of an officer to acquire that level of understanding of the particular detail work by forcing him or her out of a job after just one year.”
That jeopardizes public safety, Guidry said.
What’s more, the rotation system is unnecessary, she said.
Noting that the consent decree created the Office of Police Secondary Employment to coordinate all NOPD details with customers, then pay the officers, Guidry said the new office will ensure details are conducted in a “fair, transparent and ethical manner,” even without the rotation requirement.
Critics of the requirement say it has led many customers, who once relied on NOPD officers to work their details, to turn to other law enforcement agencies or private security firms. Last month, four months after the city started coordinating the off-duty details, just 215 of the more than 800 officers who have been approved to work details had actually done so.
“The public is not giving (the NOPD) the business. The officers are not working the details,” said Raymond Burkart III, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police. “That should tell everyone what they need to know right there.”
The council made its case in a letter sent to Morgan and the Department of Justice after its regular meeting on Thursday.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed a federal consent decree in July 2012, following an investigation of the NOPD, to rectify a number of long-standing deficiencies within the department. Among the changes was a complete restructuring of the system of off-duty overtime work for officers.
The Department of Justice found that the system, which traditionally was run by individual officers, undermined the quality of policing and facilitated abuse and corruption by officers, among other things. Morgan approved the consent decree in January 2013.