In The News › BGR finds faults in New Orleans police monitor charter amendment

BGR finds faults in New Orleans police monitor charter amendment

By Greg LaRose | The Times-Picayune

October 12, 2016

The New Orleans’ inspector general and its independent police monitor were deadlocked in a fractious dispute over operational authority and finances. Their separation was put in motion last year when the City Council agreed to put a charter change in front of voters.

Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, BGR is officially taking no position on the charter amendment, even as it stressed in a report Wednesday (Oct. 12) that a change might not be necessary and could reduce accountability from all parties involved.

In 2008, the City Council voted to have the inspector general create an independent police monitor division. The post was made permanent later that year through a charter amendment, which BGR supported, that dedicated 0.75 percent of the city’s general fund to the inspector general’s office.

The amendment did not give the inspector general the authority to replace the police monitor, yet that’s what Ed Quatrevaux wanted to do last year when he accused Susan Hutson of “ethical misconduct and unprofessional conduct.”

In addition to refuting the allegations, Hutson maintained an independent police monitor needed true separation from the inspector general. For starters, the high security at the Office of Inspector General in the Federal Reserve Bank branch on St. Charles Avenue was too restrictive for her needs. The public needed better access to her division in order to file confidential complaints against police, she said.

A very public battle between Hutson and Quatrevaux was resolved when the council voted a year ago to peel the police monitor division away from the inspector general and divvy up the general fund dedication. The agreement put 0.16 percent in control of the police monitor — almost $1 million in the 2016 budget — and sent 0.59 percent to the inspector general.

The city charter amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot would make a small change to that split: 0.04 percent of the inspector general’s allocation would be steered to the Ethics Review Board. More importantly, proponents say, the amendment would formalize the police monitor’s divorce from the IG’s office.

In Wednesday’s report, BGR questions whether the amendment is needed from a procedural standpoint. It notes that if voters fail to approve it, the inspector general and independent police monitor will simply have to reach a new agreement, in light of Hutson already having moved her division to a new location. Any lingering conflicts could be resolved through the Ethics Review Board or a court review, the report said.

BGR looked at police oversight offices nationwide and found no clear template for structuring such an office,” BGR wrote. “It also found no evidence that police oversight offices elsewhere have greater independence from political interference; indeed, the opposite may be the case in some other cities.”

While the bureau didn’t find any inherent problems with putting the police monitor under the inspector general’s control, it also didn’t find any obvious upside to keeping them under the same roof.
BGR also noted the charter amendment ordinance leaves important questions unanswered, including:

• Who will hire, review and, if necessary, terminate the policy monitor? Although most signs point to the Ethics Review Board, it’s not specifically stated in the amendment.

• The amendment calls for an external review of the Office of Inspector General but doesn’t specify the process to be followed.

• Does the independent police monitor have subpoena power or the ability to shield its records from public view?

The report was also critical of the funding structure for the Ethics Review Board, which was created to have oversight of the inspector general and police monitor. As it stands now, the board and OIG negotiate their how their money from the general fund will be split, creating a perception of dependence.

Although the changes would lock in the general fund percentages, BGR opposes permanently dedicated funding because it “can lead to outsized budgets and large surpluses.”

The report concludes with a tone that questions whether voters should be asked to resolve the dispute between Quatrevaux and Hutson — or any other where alternative resolutions are within reach.

“The charter amendment would shield those two particular entities from the future possibility of a similar scenario. However, this charter amendment risks setting a precedent for elevating matters such as this to charter-level concerns.”

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