City Hall has carved out an exception within the federal consent decree that will allow SMG, the company that operates the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center, to manage and pay New Orleans Police Department officers to work paid details at those facilities, rather than having them managed by a city office.
The agreement, approved unanimously by the City Council on Thursday, is a rare amendment to the court-approved consent decree, which sets strict rules for how the department’s paid detail system can operate.
Before the implementation of the consent decree, SMG routinely used NOPD officers to work off-duty details paid for by the company.
Such details — in which uniformed officers work countless hours at festivals, schools, weddings and other venues — have long helped to supplement NOPD salaries. But in a 2011 report that guided the writing of the consent decree, the U.S. Department of Justice called the detail system an “aorta of corruption” in the department, pointing out the pitfalls of having allowed the officers to run the system and assign details as they saw fit.
The consent decree, aimed at rooting out corruption and fraud, established a new policy for how details would be handled, calling for an Office of Police Secondary Employment within city government to take over the role of assigning the detail work.
That arrangement has been poorly received by many officers, who have been reluctant to sign up for some of the off-duty work. The city had to scramble to find enough officers to staff the Saints preseason game against the Tennessee Titans last week.
“The outside detail is generally more than 100 officers,” Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin told the council. “They were a few short for that. It was a good thing that it was a preseason game.”
The agreement approved by the council allows SMG to manage its own details. SMG has agreed to pay officers $33 an hour, 9 percent more than the $29.33 base rate paid to officers for secondary employment through the city office, City Attorney Sharonda Williams said. The company will pull from a pool of 240 officers, including 200 who previously performed detail work at its facilities.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing the implementation of the NOPD overhaul, approved the deal late last month.
The agreement will expire June 30, 2016.
The measure received a mixed response from police associations.
Donovan Livaccari, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was pleased officers would be able to work the Superdome detail, but he added that the city should have further amended the consent decree to undo other changes to the paid detail system.
“In that sense, we are not necessarily opposed to this particular ordinance,” Livaccari said. “I couldn’t quite bring myself to say that we are in support of it.”
Councilwoman Susan Guidry made a similar assessment, arguing that, with this change, SMG will receive special consideration that should have been afforded to other organizations that require large police presence for special events, such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“I think that the consent decree is misguided with regard to how they’re handling these paid details,” Guidry said. “I certainly understand that fraud, abuse, etc. was very possible with the way most private details were done in the past, but I think there are exceptions to that.”
FOP attorney Claude Schlesinger said the ordinance was just “symptomatic of the problems with the NOPD.”
The issue that should be addressed, he said, is the total compensation officers receive. He urged the council, as he has done at other recent meetings, to raise officers’ salaries.
Eric Hessler, who represents the Police Association of New Orleans, likened the ordinance to “indentured servitude” because it limits access to the SMG detail to officers who have signed up for another detail through the OPSE.