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Zurik: NOPD chief says detail investigation will take time, police association questions oversight of program

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 5:00 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson indicated in an interview with FOX 8 that the investigation into the department’s detail program and the suspension of detail work for 26 police officers could take some time.

The officers that have been suspended from doing detail work made more than $1 Million in off-duty shifts, according to NOPD records.

“Right now they’re under a formal disciplinary investigation, in doing so what that means is that now they have to go through their due process through the officer’s bill of rights,” Supt. Ferguson said. “Meaning that we’re going to conduct internal affairs, the Public Integrity Bureau, will conduct a formal investigation into their actions in these allegations to determine what was done, what are the facts of the case and once that has been placed before us, then a recommendation is to a penalty.”

FOX 8′s series of stories uncovered NOPD Sergeant Todd Morrell was paid for duty and detail shifts while he was racing cars at NOLA Motorsports Park — even on video giving himself a driving award while he was on the clock.

Our stories also found Todd Morrell’s brother, Nicholas, and other officers were being paid for duty and detail shifts at the same time, essentially double-dipping.

We also found more than a dozen officers breaking an NOPD policy that limits the amount of time they’re able to work in a 24-hour period. When you combine detail and duty shifts, we found some officers getting paid for as many as thirty hours straight of work.

One of those officers, Officer Anthony Bakewell, started getting paid for a lengthy shift of duty and detail work on Valentine‘s Day 2020. Records show over a 44-hour stretch, Bakewell took only two hours off. The NOPD policy limits the maximum amount of work during a 24-hour period to 16 hours and 35 minutes. Bakewell’s long stretch included two hours of double billing. Records obtained by FOX 8 show he worked a detail shift at the Downtown Development District and an NOPD duty shift at the same time.

In response to the Bakewell findings, Donovan Livaccari, counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said it occurred during Carnival, a time when it is all hands on deck for the department.

“February 14, 2020 was toward the beginning of Mardi Gras 2020 and Bakewell had just been promoted to sergeant and was working in the 8th District on the night watch. Mardi Gras, which was February 25, 2020, is all hands on deck for the 8th District for pretty much the whole Carnival season,” Livaccari said in a statement to FOX 8.

Bakewell is one of 26 officers now suspended from doing that extra detail work, pending an investigation. Supt. Shaun Ferguson said the department is doing its due diligence in the investigation into the officers.

“We are no strangers to difficult situations,” Supt. Ferguson said. “This is something that has been brought to our attention, I think to you, and we’re going to do our due diligence in holding ourselves accountable. This is something that we’ve never shied away from. We’ve had challenges in the past and we face them head-on. We will continue to do the same with this particular incident as well.”

The officers suspended from duty work are still able to work their regular duty shifts while the investigation proceeds. It is unclear if the investigation will look at more officers potentially breaking NOPD policies.

But the move by Chief Ferguson is a sign he wants to clean up the detail system, a system that was described ten years ago by the U.S. Department of Justice as the “aorta of corruption.”

POLICE ASSOCIATION QUESTIONS PROGRAM’S OVERSIGHT

The detail work is administered by the Office of Police Secondary Employment (OPSE), an office independent of the police department. Last year, about half of the force, approximately 600 officers did detail work. All totaled these officers made nearly $9 Million in extra compensation.

Skip Gallagher is a professor at the University of New Orleans and has been looking into the police records since requesting them under a public records request. Gallagher questions the effectiveness of the Office of Police Secondary Employment.

”I feel that the secondary employment is more concerned about selling officers as a commodity than they are about whether this provides the best use of officers and the best public interest for the use of officers,” Gallagher said.

Eric Hessler, attorney with the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), also wants more focus to be on the OPSE.

”When you have one job and you’ve had that job for seven years, and I think [the FOX 8] investigation goes back three or four [years], finding multiple errors, that should have been caught by both sides, then that, to me is a problem,“ Hessler said. “The officers bear some responsibility. I don’t think this was intentional, I think it was a matter of neglect, inattentiveness.”

Hessler said the OPSE was created for this exact purpose — to prevent these things from happening.

”That is why they were created. That was their sole purpose,” Hessler said. “That’s their only job and they’ve failed miserably at it clearly.”

Ferguson did not rule out possible additional sanctions for the officers.

“That is part of the disciplinary process,” Supt. Ferguson said. “Right now they are just suspended from having their detail privileges, which it is a privilege to be able to work a secondary job while with the New Orleans Police Department.”

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