Mar 312014

Owen Courreges

This week, I spotted two pieces of news that become quite unnerving when placed together.

First, this legislative session, no fewer than four lawmakers have filed bills seeking to authorize off-duty police officers to carry firearms in bars.  The move comes in reaction to an opinion issued last summer by Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in which he advised that the practice is technically illegal under an existing Louisiana statute.

Secondly, former 6th District New Orleans police officer Desmond Pratt was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual battery and one count of felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile.  Pratt owed his light sentence to the reluctance of the victims to testify, a common factor in rape and incest cases.

These two stories are unnerving because the former story depends on the perception of police officers are more upstanding, responsible, and law-abiding than the general public.  Pratt’s admitted pederasty and sexual battery muddies the waters.  Worse, Pratt’s disgrace wasn’t an isolated embarrassment, but yet another sad reflection on a much-maligned department.

Here’s an uncomfortable fact some of you may have forgotten:  Two former New Orleans police officers are currently on death row.

In 1995, Officer Antoinette Frank and an accomplice notoriously murdered a fellow NOPD officer working a security detail at a Vietnamese restaurant in New Orleans East.  The pair also gunned down the restaurant owner’s two children as they were on their knees praying for their lives to be spared.  She remains on death row.

The year before, in 1994, Officer Len Davis had orchestrated the murder of a mother-of-three after being tipped off by a fellow officer in Internal Affairs that she had filed a complaint against him.  Davis, who was notorious for running a drug protection racket, had his drug contacts make the hit.  He also was sentenced to death and remains on death row.

Sadly, the list doesn’t end there.  Frank and Davis aren’t the only NOPD officers to be convicted of murder, nor are they even the most recent.  A month before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Officer Melvin Williams beat a 48-year-old handyman to death, and then he and his partner attempted to cover up the crime.  In 2011, Williams was found guilty and sentenced to over 20 years in prison.  His partner was sentenced to five years for lying to the FBI and falsifying a report.

One could go on and on.  In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we were confronted with (among other misconduct) the Danziger Bridge shooting and the murder of Henry Glover.

Finally, the US Department of Justice took notice in 2010 and opened an investigation of the NOPD.  In 2011, it released its findings, which in part held that “the NOPD has engaged in patterns of misconduct that violate the Constitution and federal law, including a pattern or practice of excessive force, and of illegal stops, searches, and arrests.”

As you probably already know, the Justice Department filed suit against the NOPD and a consent decree was reached in 2012.  The City, after fighting the very terms it previously agreed to, is wrangling with the logistics of implementing the decree.

The point of all of this? Against this backdrop, I’m not convinced that we should we be creating more special privileges for police officers.  Can anyone still say, with nary a chuckle, that our officers are more responsible and law-abiding than your average citizen?  Do they merit more special treatment?

The question crystallizes a matter of principle.  My personal view on the proposed legislation to make it legal for off-duty police officers to carry their firearms into bars is that it probably won’t have any practical impact.  I’m guessing that officers get away with doing so all the time and are rarely, if ever, charged with carrying illegally.

However, codifying a special rule for police in this area implies that police officers, even those off-the-clock, are more worthy of trust than the rest of us.  I sincerely wish that were the case, but following years of entrenched corruption and the commission of some of the worst crimes imaginable, I don’t think it’s true for the NOPD.  It may or may not be true for other departments, but I’m on the record as being less than impressed with the checks on police misconduct that exist statewide.

The NOPD is beset by many problems at present and I know it doesn’t need me piling on in my umpteenth column criticizing them.  Moreover, I have always maintained that the lion’s share of officers aren’t bad eggs.

But the same is true for the general citizenry.  I dare say we’re a generally law-abiding lot.  That raises the question: If we’re willing to trust the NOPD in this way, why not everyone else?  Why make a special carve-out for law enforcement if the statute is otherwise valid?

I just don’t see the reason.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • Jim McArthur

    Off-duty police officers SHOULD be allowed to carry firearms in bars. But so too should private citizens who have concealed handgun permits. Statistically, this group is less likely to commit crimes than are either police officers, or the population at large.

  • Jim McArthur

    And this article also brings up another issue: what good does the death penalty do, if two police officers are still sitting on death row for capital crimes they committed 19 and 20 years ago? The death penalty should be abolished. Murderers should get a life sentence, and be put to hard labor in the general prison population. Let them earn their keep, instead of spending decades sitting in private cells before they die from obesity and lung cancer.

  • broadmoorer

    With all due respect to our courageous police officers, there is a common theme of the types of people who become officers. “Power trip” is one that I hear relatively frequently…

  • Woobniggurath

    Three words: On-Officer Video.

  • Craig

    I remember my first NOPD experience, mere hours after I moved here. A squad car came flying past my vehicle, siren and lights on, likely a good 20mph over the speed limit. He pulls into the Rally’s drive thru, lights and siren go off, and he eases up to the mic to place his order. Not Our Problem Dude, indeed. The sooner every single one of our “finest” is required to wear a video camera at all times when on duty, the sooner we might start seeing a change in behavior. Until then, we’ll be fed the “one bad apple” line every time there’s an incident while the department circles the wagons.

  • Mike Flood

    In many cities, counties and states, Police are considered on duty 24/7. To forbid them to carry a firearm less than 24/7 could put their life in possible danger. I’m not referring only to them witnessing a crime in certain establishments , I mean running into someone that they had previously arrested, someone that might hold a grudge, that knows that the officer is not armed.

  • Owen Courrèges


    I don’t buy that rhetoric. Sure, an off-duty officer is expected to respond to an emergency in his presence if he is able, but if he’s prohibited from carrying in a certain place, it’s not at though he is under an obligation to challenge armed assailants. And there are other professions where a man might encounter somebody with a grudge; I don’t see police as needing extra protection in that regard.

  • Owen Courrèges


    I tend to agree. I’m more the “constitutional carry” type, but so long as we have a system of permits with background checks and required training, I don’t see a good reason not to limit the places where carrying is prohibited for CHL holders as well as police. Sadly, many lawmakers are very resistant to that.