In The News › The key to New Orleans police reform is the reformer: Jarvis DeBerry

Aug 5, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish

The key to New Orleans police reform is the reformer: Jarvis DeBerry

Friday, August 05, 2011
By Jarvis DeBerry
The Times-Picayune

This week the Bureau of Governmental Research gave its qualified approval to New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ plan to reform the system that lets police work off-duty security details. After calling Serpas’ plan “a promising start,” the BGR is careful to point out that “no matter how strongly a detail policy is worded, its effectiveness depends on how well it is enforced.”

In other words, no matter what’s written down on paper, if we have a see-no-evil police chief, it will all be for naught.

An unobservant chief is certainly what we had before. We’ll have to wait and see if the author of the reform plan has himself changed, that is, if Serpas now embraces the idea that it’s his job to know what’s going on throughout the department.

The public was taken aback this spring by Serpas’ claim that he didn’t know that a group that included his godchild’s father, his son-in-law and his bodyguard was raking in the dough doing off-duty reviews of traffic camera tickets.

Imagine paying a janitor a salary, then doling out extra money for mopping. Imagine giving a teacher lagniappe for grading papers. That’s essentially what New Orleanians were doing as those officers worked a detail that paid them for work that should have been handled by officers on duty.

Serpas didn’t just stop at the argument that he didn’t know. It was worse than that. He argued that what was happening was unknowable. Ask him how he could have remained unaware of improprieties committed by those so close to him, and he’d say that 1,100 officers worked paid details and he couldn’t possibly be expected to keep track of all of them. But the question wasn’t about all of them. It was about a handful of officers who had close ties to the chief.

In an announcement that roughly coincided with the release of BGR’s report, Serpas’ revealed Tuesday that he had given nine police officers three-day suspensions for forming companies to run private police details. Police Commander Ed Hosli, one of the chief’s closest friends, was one of those suspended. Hosli is the officer who formed Anytime Solutions, LLC, which performed the traffic camera ticket reviews for a City Hall subcontractor.

The Department of Justice said in a report this spring that paid details form the Police Department’s “aorta of corruption,” a characterization that’s hard to dispute. The BGR says that departments with good detail policies have centralized control and administration of the off-duty shifts, limits on the number of hours worked and the types of businesses that can hire officers, a fair process for distributing the jobs and establishing compensation and proper monitoring.

“Currently, the NOPD detail policy calls for little in the way of monitoring,” according to the BGR report. But in the reform plan that Serpas presented to Mayor Mitch Landrieu in May, stronger oversight is key. There is to be supervision “linked directly to the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau.”

Not surprisingly, under Serpas’ reform plan, officers would be barred from working details for “city agencies or its political subdivisions.” The BGR report approves of that change but acknowledges that it was impossible for them to find other departments’ positions on that topic. “Best practices do not address the issue,” the report says, “perhaps because the notion of a government paying its own employees to work details is unusual.”

It’s also unusual to make the transition from a leader who says he shouldn’t have been expected to see what was happening to a leader who is properly vigilant. Will Serpas be one who makes that change?

One thing’s sure: The public will be watching him.

Aug 5, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish

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