State audit of NOPD patrols at Southern Decadence under way - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

State audit of NOPD patrols at Southern Decadence under way

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor wants to know if NOPD used Hurricane Isaac reimbursements from FEMA to pay police officers on patrol at Southern Decadence Festival.

Last year's fest fell the same week as the storm hit the Louisiana coast.

Days after Hurricane Isaac, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told New Orleanians his patience was wearing thin over power outages, but that some things were getting back to normal.

On August 30, 2012, Landrieu announced in conjunction with tourism officials that Southern Decadence would go on as planned.

In the French Quarter, which fared better than other parts of the city, the annual gay festival did happen Labor Day weekend, drawing a crowd much smaller than usual.  NOPD, as it does every year, assigned officers to patrol on foot and on horseback.

"The city historically, and rightfully so, assigns additional officers to keep order and safety of everyone down there," says Eric Hessler, attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans.

Now questions surround how dozens of officers assigned to the festival got paid.  Investigators with the Louisiana Legislative Auditors office out of Baton Rouge are in town looking for answers.

"It appears to revolve around allegations that the city may have misused federal funds to pay for supplemental patrols during Decadence Fest," says Hessler.

He says some officers have told auditors they were instructed to fill out special payroll forms, trip sheets that are green in color, which classified their work at Southern Decadence as Hurricane Isaac-related.

If that was the case, those hours would then be eligible for reimbursement by FEMA.

"The officers themselves are just doing what they're told. They get their orders from higher ups, who get their orders from City Hall, who has to deal with FEMA," says Raymond Burkart, III of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The NOPD and the city both say they're unaware of any state legislative audit under way.  Police Chief Ronal Serpas issued a statement, saying, "The NOPD would readily comply with any such investigation as we believe all policies were properly followed for officers working citywide."

Burkart says the timing is what's important.  "You're still in a declared emergency," he says. "Power's out in places, Venetian Isles is flooded. What you really need to know is, how was the manpower allocated for the Southern Decadence Fest, compared to what the original plan was?"

Should Southern Decadence, a pre-planned event, be considered disaster-related work for the NOPD?  It's something state investigators hope to get to the bottom of soon.

Chief Serpas says the original plan to police the fest called for no overtime pay, so it had to be adjusted as a result of the storm and officers working 12-hour shifts.

The state legislative auditor could release its findings in the coming weeks.

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