Many Uptown neighborhoods, either through volunteer collections or through special self-imposed taxing districts, hire either off-duty NOPD officers or private security companies to conduct additional patrols in their neighborhood. These officers are intended to deter criminals through increased presence, always be close enough to respond to calls quickly and also perform more direct security functions, such as watching to ensure residents make it from their cars to the front doors safely at night.
The entire system of paid police details has come under close scrutiny of late. In announcing the results of their investigation into the NOPD, federal investigators famously decried the detail system as an “aorta of corruption” through the department, and ranking officers have recently been suspended for forming private companies to contact with the department for various tasks. In response, Chief Serpas has proposed significant reforms to the system, placing it all under the oversight of an independent office and removing individual officers’ autonomy to run the details.
In an interview this week, George Young, president of the Hurstville Security District, acknowledged the necessity of the reforms, that the current system is “fraught with conflicts of interest,” and that the mere idea of neighborhoods hiring officers from the city police department is unique to New Orleans.
“The main problem is that if we just paid the cops what they need to be paid, we wouldn’t have to worry about this,” Young said. “You’d attract more professionals to the system.”
But as the changes take place, the neighborhoods are concerned about how much control they will lose over the officers they hire, Young said. In a joint letter with the president of the Garden District Security District, Young asks Serpas a litany of specific questions about the structure of the new detail service: Will the neighborhood have any control over the officers assigned to them? Will the residents still be able to contact the officer on duty directly, or will a call to a dispatcher be required? How will the officers report back to the neighborhood?
Those same concerns are shared by the neighboring Upper Hurstville Security District, writes that board’s chair Karen Duncan in a separate letter to Serpas.
“Our Security District detail officers are not fungible warm bodies in blue uniforms. They are individuals that know us and we know them. That personal connection is the essence of community policing, a concept that you have enthusiastically supported,” Duncan writes.
“We are particularly troubled about the portions of the proposal suggesting that Security Districts will not be able to the select the officers used in our district, and that the officers will be periodically rotated. An officer that knows nothing about us will provide a less valuable service to us. All of the Security Districts have the option of instead employing private security services, and many will likely discontinue using NOPD details under the proposed system. Further, as our District budget is fixed for the year, we will certainly be forced to consider discontinuing our NOPD security detail if the cost of the detail increases substantially. We believe that NOPD professionals can craft a more finely nuanced system of discipline and oversight that does not throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
All three neighborhoods ask Serpas for a meeting on the issue, requesting that a number of other neighborhood groups around the city (such as Lakeview, Mid-City and others) be included as well. Serpas told reporter Scott Satchfield of our reporting partners at WWL-TV that no final decisions have been made regarding the details.
“We are gonna have a paid detail system that is transparent, accountable, equitable, and gives as much as we can to all sides,” Serpas told WWL. “We still have a lot of work in front of us and we’re gonna listen to all of these issues, and we want those issues to be brought forward to us.”
Contact Robert Morris at rmorris@NolaMessenger.com, or post your comment below.