Two neighborhood security districts in New Orleans are balking at a plan to fold the work of their self-funded police patrols into the city’s new system for managing off-duty police details, with at least one district threatening to take its business elsewhere.
The Mid-City and Lakeview security districts both sent letters to U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan this week, saying the officers they hire to enhance regular Police Department patrols in their neighborhoods are considered to be on-duty and therefore shouldn’t fall under the new Office of Police Secondary Employment.
Under the federal consent decree that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Attorney General Eric Holder signed last year to reform the Police Department the new office is supposed to be managing the bulk of off-duty police work by Jan. 11.
U.S. Department of Justice officials argue the security district work should be included in the details managed by the new clearinghouse office.
They sent a letter to the city in August, warning a proposed City Council ordinance would violate the consent decree by stripping out some categories of extra police work from the office’s jurisdiction, thus watering down reforms to a detail system that critics say has been prone to favoritism and abuse.
The council ultimately turned down the provisions in question.
Freddy Yoder, of the Lakeview Crime Prevention District, said his district will refuse to play along with the new management system.
“We’re not going to become a part of it. We will not allow moneys to go to subsidize the cost of running another office at City Hall,” Yoder said.
“If we’ve got to go to a different venue — the Sheriff’s Office or private patrols or Jefferson Parish — we’re not going to (backslide) on what we promised the citizens.”
The Lakeview district’s possible defection would be another serious blow to NOPD officers who supplement their incomes from detail work.
The amount of such work has dropped by more than half since controversy over the work erupted in 2011 and police Superintendent Ronal Serpas pledged dramatic changes to a system long governed by direct deals between officers and businesses.
Among the 25 security districts in the city, only Mid-City and Lakeview use on-duty NOPD officers.
Most others use private patrols, with a few using off-duty police or some combination.
According to a report last month by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office, Mid-City spends about $1.2 million annually on extra security, funding 840 patrol hours a week.
Lakeview spends about $565,000 a year, which goes in part to fund another 350 patrol hours, paid to officers working overtime.
Yoder estimated fees paid to the new city office could cut into the amount spent on patrols in Lakeview by as much as 25 percent.
According to the inspector general’s report, the Lakeview district’s security spending works out to $31 per patrol hour, including money spent on police cruisers for the extra officers.
Under the current fee schedule set by the City Council, the district would be forced to pay around $85,000 as an administrative fee to help fund the new office, or 15 percent of its total security budget.
The city keeps 1 percent of the extra tax paid by residents of the district as a collection fee.
“There was a promise that was made to the citizens of Lakeview” when the district was formed in 1997, Yoder said. “Their biggest concern was that the city was going to keep the money.”
According to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office, the city is in talks with the Justice Department and the consent decree monitor over the issue.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division could not be reached because of federal furloughs.
“The consent decree does not specifically address security taxing districts one way or the other, and the issue has not yet been ruled on by the court,” mayoral spokeswoman Garnesha Crawford said.
According to Yoder, both violent crime and property crime have dropped sharply in Lakeview since the security district was created.
The existence of so many districts in New Orleans has drawn concern in some circles over resulting disparities in the level of public safety, since only relatively well-to-do neighborhoods reap the benefits.
The inspector general’s report said response times in the Lakeview district are 35 percent faster than in the surrounding parts of the Third Police District, and 20 percent faster in the Mid-City district compared with elsewhere in the First and Third districts.
Under the court-monitored reform deal, the new office will dictate which officers get to work off-duty shifts and will prohibit them from working the same detail for more than a year, with the goal of spreading the financial benefits among more cops.
“We would lose control over the officers we have that work those patrols on a daily basis,” Yoder said. “They understand our community, know the people in that community, know the habits and follow all the crime trends.”
Both the Lakeview and Mid-City districts are asking for a seat at the table at an upcoming status conference in federal court, where the city, the feds and Morgan will discuss remaining barriers to getting the new office fully functioning.
According to Quatrevaux’s report, security districts in the city appear to have a significant role in reducing property crimes, but there was “no statistical relationship with violent crime or murder rates” overall.
Lee Reid, an attorney with the Mid-City district, did not return calls for comment.