A New Orleans police group has launched another bid to stymie planned reforms to the maligned off-duty police detail system, claiming the pending shift to a city-run operation violates local civil service laws.
The Police Association of New Orleans filed a petition Friday with the Civil Service Commission, saying the city jumped the gun by setting pay rates and other rules for the details, which will be run through City Hall under the new Office of Police Secondary Employment.
The move is the latest by New Orleans’ officer groups to put the kibosh on a plan for the city to manage the details, in which uniformed officers have historically worked on the side at privately agreed-upon rates, providing security for events, local stores and certain neighborhoods that pay for extra police coverage.
The city office is part of a raft of detail reforms dictated under a federal consent decree governing broad reforms to the NOPD.
The side work came under fire in 2011, with a controversy over a crew of cops that handled the review of traffic camera tickets under a firm run by Cmdr. Edwin Hosli Jr., a pal of police Superintendent Ronal Serpas. Around the same time, the U.S. Justice Department labeled the detail system an “aorta of corruption” in a scathing report on NOPD practices, Later, Justice Department officials insisted that the reforms be included in the consent decree.
In the legal filing, however, PANO attorney Eric Hessler cites city code that says jobs “necessary for the discharge of the function of city agencies, boards and commissions” are presumed to fall under civil service laws. Because the point of the new city agency is to dole out detail work, the argument goes, it’s the commission’s job, not the city’s, to set pay rates and other rules.
The council passed a package of ordinances last month to govern the new system. But the arrangement to set up details amounts to contract work that requires civil service authority, PANO claims.
“Our argument is that the city is using city employees — namely police officers — to staff and run a city agency and profit off of it, and they haven’t gone through the proper legal and administrative procedures,” Hessler said Monday. “The city will walk a cat into a room and tell everybody it’s a dog. They can call these officers anything they want to call them, but they’re treating them like city employees.”
What rankles officers most is the pay rates for details — which start at $29 an hour -— and that officers must rotate out of most details after a year. Many officers count on the details to supplement their salaries.
The OPSE, under Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin’s office, is slated to fully take over detail management duties in early January.
the anniversary of when U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan approved the consent decree. In the meantime, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office awaits a federal appeals court ruling on the mayor’s challenge to Morgan’s approval of the consent decree.
Kopplin said the office has just started to manage some details, but that others — including New Orleans Saints and school details — will be delayed to avoid complications as the city works out the kinks with a court-appointed monitor for the consent decree.
Kopplin cited an opinion from a federal government labor lawyer that declares the new detail system does not violate federal labor law regarding overtime and benefits. That indicates that the details do not amount to city employment, Kopplin said.
“The Department of Labor has agreed that we may run (details) as secondary employment from a separate employer,” Kopplin said, “Therefore (PANO’s petition) lacks merit.”
“That is in fact what we’re doing. That is why the council set up a separate fee schedule for it.”
According to the city, NOPD officers have lost more than half of their off-duty detail work since the controversy started brewing more than two years ago, partly because of uncertainty surrounding the changes. Instead of fighting, Kopplin said, officers and their unions should be working to help restore that business.
“Their members and our officers depend on it,” he said.