Town suspends security details after audit cites possible violations

Audit raises questions about ethics of police nonprofit

Independence’s police chief has suspended private security details performed by town officers after an auditor’s report said the work may have triggered state law and ethics violations.

Police Chief Frank Edwards and town police officers created a nonprofit corporation in 2010 that used off-duty town officers and town equipment to provide security for local businesses.

The nonprofit, Independence Police — Reserve Division, charged businesses $20 to $25 per hour, with the officers receiving $16 an hour and the rest going to the organization, according to an investigative audit report the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released Monday.

The Reserve Division had no working agreement with the town, no budgets or written contracts, did not share its business records with town officials and did not reimburse the town for the use of police vehicles, fuel and equipment, the report said.

That arrangement created a possible conflict of interest for Edwards, who could direct the use of public assets without any oversight from town officials, the report said.

In addition, the 43 officers who worked the paid private details may have violated state ethics laws because the town had no policies in place that authorized the work or set charges for the use of public assets, the report said.

The report also noted that security details that worked outside of the town’s limits may have been improper donations of public resources, violating the state constitution and state law.

The report was forwarded to the state Board of Ethics and the District Attorney’s Office for the 21st Judicial District, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said.

Edwards said Monday he has suspended the security details, is reviewing the report’s recommendations and will take corrective action as necessary to ensure the organization is in compliance with state law.

The report’s recommendations included repaying the town for use of its resources, discontinuing the use of a nonprofit organization to manage the security details and running all future detail income through a town bank account.

Edwards said the report is couched in terms of possible violations and he will await word from the enforcement agencies before taking further action.

Edwards said he and the Reserve Division have nothing to hide.

“No money is missing, no money has been misspent and no money has been misappropriated,” he said.

Edwards said he saw the arrangement as “win-win” because the Reserve Division provided community policing that benefited the public, while officers could earn better compensation than the town provides.

“Any violation was certainly not intentional,” he said.

Town Attorney Brett Duncan had warned town officials in December that use of the nonprofit organization to manage the security details exposed the town to possible legal liabilities and negative audit findings.

Duncan drafted an ordinance that would have established policies for private security details, but the board has yet to act on it, he said.

“The board decided to wait until the legislative auditor completed its investigation and report,” Duncan said Monday.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.