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Zurik: Timesheets, detail records reveal officers may have violated cap on work hours

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 9:53 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An analysis of timesheets and off-duty detail assignments has found that certain New Orleans police officers might be violating the department’s policy on the maximum hours an officer can work.

NOPD policy limits the amount of hours an officer can work over a 24-hour period to sixteen hours and thirty-five minutes — that includes work hours, overtime and off-duty detail assignments.

Those assignments have come under scrutiny following a series of FOX 8 Investigations found officers on the clock for NOPD while also on detail duty and also found one officer who was likely at a racetrack at the same time he was assigned a detail assignment.

Thursday, the New Orleans Police Department suspended 26 officers from doing any off-duty work until an audit and investigation can be completed by the department.

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Skip Gallagher found some of the discrepancies after he requested NOPD documents. During his day job, Gallagher teaches students at the University of New Orleans as a professor of forensic science. In his free time, Gallagher spends much of his time analyzing public records, including those from NOPD.

After what Gallagher has found, a group of officers repeatedly breaking department policy, he believes the NOPD detail program is broken.

“I can only imagine a good trained accountant looking at this, and I would think it would be very easy for them to find out what’s going on, and to enforce NOPD policy,” Gallagher said.

FOX 8 also reviewed timesheets from NOPD and detail sheets from the Office of Police Secondary Employment and found a group of officers consistently break the department’s policy that limits the number of hours an officer can work in a 24-hour period.

In May 2018, Officer Nicholas Morrell worked more than the policy allows for twenty days of the month. For example, on May 4, 2018, Morrell started his NOPD shift at 11 a.m. and went off the clock at 7:35 p.m. But twenty-five minutes later, Morrell went back on the clock for a detail shift patrolling the Fairgrounds neighborhood that lasted from 8 p.m. until Midnight. After midnight, Morrell continued to work the detail until 11 a.m. and went back to NOPD duty until 7:35 p.m. — totaling nearly thirty-three consecutive hours of work, a clear violation of the department policy.

“I think a lot of the issues within the city are not just individuals finding ways to break the rules, I think it’s a lot that supervisors are not enforcing the written rules that are on the books,” Dr. Robert Collins, Dillard University Political Analyst, said.

In 2018, timesheets show Morrell violated this policy 107 times, including a stretch after Thanksgiving when over an 80-hour period, Morrell worked duty and detail for 71 of those hours. Morrell only had nine hours off-duty in more than three days.

“It’s a potential public safety issue,” Collins said. “There’s a reason why we put time limits on the the amount of time that first responders, as well as medical professionals, emergency room professionals, can work. And it’s because they deal with life or death situations. When people are dealing with life or death situations, you need them to be alert, and you need them to be focused.”

At least a handful of officers frequently break the departmental rule on hours. For the first six months of this year, records show Officer Matthew Edersheim violated the policy 46 times, including a stretch in June where he worked 67 hours, only taking nine hours off.

Donovan Livaccarri, counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the policy for the department is a lengthy one and its possible not all officers are aware of every single policy.

But e-mails obtained by FOX 8 show officers have been made aware of this policy in particular. We found e-mails from a lieutenant to the entire department and a similar e-mail going out, reminding officers about the policy limiting the amount of time officers can work within a 24-hour period.

“Sometimes these assignments are given to them by OPSE [Office of Police Secondary Employment] and they don’t want to turn them down,” Livaccari said. “Sometimes things run a little longer than they’re supposed to, sometimes the 24-hour period kind of hard to calculate.”

Regardless, Livaccari said the policy is not needed and police officers are able to police their own health and rest.

“It’s a decision that every one of us makes as to how much sleep we need to get and these are adults, grown men and women who know their bodies, and they know what they need,” Livaccari said. “The policy is in place and the policy should be enforced. I’m not arguing that people should disregard the policy, that’s not my argument. I don’t believe the policy is necessary.”

FOX 8 found more officers violating the policy. In the first half of this year, records show Eric Gillard possibly violated it 13 times, John Butler possibly violating the rule 23 times. In August 2020, records showed Officer Michael Stalbert worked about 30 hours straight with no time off to rest.

The police department’s off-duty detail assignments have been under the microscope for years. In 2011, NOPD entered into a federal consent decree with the Department of Justice to clean up the department. Part of the problem ten years ago was the detail system, which the DOJ called troubling and said it contributes to compromising officer fatigue.

The consent decree criticized officers being allowed to work an overnight detail then going directly to their NOPD shift. The DOJ said they heard complaints that officers were too tired to perform their duties. The consent decree led to the creation of the Office of Police Secondary Employment, an office created separate from the police department to oversee the program and institute reforms, like the policy limiting the number of hours officers can work in 24 hours.

For Skip Gallagher, he said the records he requested and reviewed, show the secondary employment system for the city is still in need of repair.

“It worries me that one of the departments that was put in place to control this or to make sense of this or stop this sort of payroll fraud was the Office of Secondary Employment, and what they seem most concerned with is their fees that are required to support their staff,” Gallagher said. “More so than whether the rules and regulations of the NOPD are actually enforced because this should not be hard for them to figure out.”

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