Municipal courtrooms close citing unsafe conditions without NOPD security

Municipal courtrooms close citing unsafe conditions without NOPD security

NOPD Chief Michael Harrison pulled officers from Municipal Court. They were three of 22 officers from city facilities transferred to street duty in various districts over the weekend.

Chief Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet said court could not continue without the security.

"It's unfortunate that it has come to this, but we have no choice. We have to have order in that courtroom. Otherwise, mayhem could break out - really and truly," Charbonnet said.

Charbonnet said Municipal Court can be a boiling pot of emotion and losing NOPD officers, means losing security for everyone inside.

"Fear. Fear runs through my mind because you've got the general public, you've got victims of crime you've got perpetrators, you've got serious criminals coming through court," Charbonnet said.

A spokesperson for Mayor Mitch Landrieu said NOPD transferred three of the court's four assigned officers to street duty in various districts in order to help address the manpower issue.

11 officers, 3 sergeants and 2 lieutenants from other facilities were pulled from departments such as the District Attorney's office, as well as areas involving victim's wellness and recruitment.

Charbonnet said the problem is how quickly NOPD Chief Michael Harrison made the decision on Friday, and pulled the officers.

"The superintendent called me on Friday afternoon maybe about 2:00 PM and advised me that he's trying to pull his police officers from where ever he can to put them on the street, which I get. I completely understand that because no one is more in touch with the crime problem than we are at Municipal Court given the volume of work we have," Charbonnet said. "Well, by 3:30 that afternoon the chief comes to my courtroom to tell me that, this is happening right now. As of Monday I'm taking my cops."

In a statement, a city spokesperson said, "this plan has been in the works for weeks," and that the city has money to pay the Constable's Office to provide security until the end of the year.

However, Orleans Constable Lambert Boissiere Jr. told Fox 8 he was never told the transfer was happening. He told Charbonnet that he doesn't have enough staff to cover Municipal Court, and his staffed aren't trained to handle Municipal Court.

"He says wait, we're not prepared for that kind of action. We're primarily civil guys. I don't have anybody trained to handle that kind of situation. So, I can't provide you with the kind of security you need," Charbonnet said.

Charbonnet said Municipal Court handles 28,000 cases a year, which she said is 80 percent of all arrests made by NOPD.

She said the heavy case load is one reason why there's a city ordinance that says: "The superintendent of police shall detail police officers in each section of the municipal court."

"It's just, you've got to have order in municipal court. You've got to have police security."

Traffic court remained open with its regular security provided by the Constable's Office.

NOPD sent this information in a press release on Monday:

In keeping with his commitment to put more police officers on the street, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison announced today that 22 officers who were largely serving in administrative positions have been transferred to field assignments at NOPD districts across the city. The positions will be replaced with civilians and outside law enforcement agency personnel where appropriate.

“My top priority is to ensure that our neighborhoods are safe. In order to do that, we will continue to aggressively recruit and look for opportunities to smartly deploy the resources we already have,” said Chief Harrison. “Over the past several weeks, we identified positions across the department that could be handled by civilians or other law enforcement agencies. Our goal is to put as many officers on our streets as possible as we continue to rebuild and strengthen the NOPD.”

Of the 22 positions, 15 officers were handling administrative duties at the NOPD, 3 officers were providing security support in Municipal Court, 1 officer was assigned to the Department of Sanitation and 3 officers were assigned to the District Attorney's Office.

NOPD finalized the transfers on Friday, December 12, 2014 and they became effective on Sunday, December 14, 2014.

In addition to replacing commissioned officers working in administrative roles with civilians, the NOPD is working aggressively every day to recruit, hire and train more police officers. Class #170 graduated on December 5, 2014 with 26 recruits. Class #171 is training another 29 recruits who are expected to graduate. In addition, the 2015 budget provides funding for 150 new police officers.

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