ZURIK: 11 NOPD officers investigated for possible double-dipping
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans Police Department launches investigations into 11 officers accused of abusing the paid detail system. The NOPD says the officers may have committed the same type of violation that FOX 8 has highlighted within the department for nearly two years.
The police department did a manual audit of every officers’ timesheets and detail shifts from March 2022 through December 2022. As a result of the audit, the department’s Public Integrity Bureau launched formal disciplinary investigations into Sgt. Alfred Russell, Officer Chris Jennings, Officer Danny Ellis, Officer Douglas McGowan, Officer Jounay Thomas-Ross, Officer Kelsey Lewis, Officer Kimberly Wilson, Officer Laron Stewart, Officer Prince Moore, Officer Sean McElrath, and Officer Warren Walker.
Deputy Superintendent Nick Gernon says investigations were launched into the officers because they had more than four apparent overlaps in the nine-month period.
FOX 8 inspected timesheets and detail sheets and also found overlaps. For example, on December 19, 2022, Christopher Jennings’ timesheet shows he worked an unscheduled shift from 3:23 p.m. until 6:53 p.m. Despite being on the clock for the NOPD during that time, he was also paid to work a detail at the Walmart on Bullard Avenue from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. that same evening.
December 20, Jennings also had an apparent overlap, being paid by taxpayers and Walmart at the same time. Since his alleged violations are still under investigation, it’s unclear if he has any explanation for the apparent overlaps.
NOPD watchdog Skip Gallagher has been following issues with the detail system for years and says there’s no excuse for abuse of the policy.
“You are being paid as a city employee to perform some function, and clearly you’re not doing both at once,” Gallagher said. “There is no officer now in the NOPD that can say they don’t understand the policy now.”
Previous FOX 8 investigations included findings on now-retired officer Todd Morrell, who while being paid to protect the Fairgrounds neighborhood was spotted racing cars at a Westbank motor park. Gallagher says while it is shocking that officers may still be abusing the system, the punishments for those caught in the past haven’t been harsh.
“It does with the amount of attention that’s been brought to it. It seems very surreal that any officer thinks this is a great idea. But if you look back at what’s happened to the previous officers, the punishments have been very, very mild. They haven’t been asked to repay money, they’ve been asked to do anything more than maybe take a couple of days suspension,” Gallagher said.
Interim Superintendent Michelle Woodfork says the office is trying to get the messaging out to make sure officers don’t have shifts that overlap, but admits, some may be ignoring the rules.
“I think people are still learning … some officers are new and maybe not understand. So, we have a lot of messaging going on. We talk about details all the time, putting out messages all the time about how many hours you can work, what is the approved number of hours for the week, that you can work up to,” Woodfork said. “Just like anything, and anywhere, any other profession, there are going to be those people who don’t follow the rules. And the rule breakers are going to be subject to a formal disciplinary investigation.”
The NOPD has closed its investigation into one of the 11 officers. Investigators found Jounay Thomas-Ross had two overlapping shifts. That included November 2, 2022, when Tomas-Ross’ timesheet showed she worked a duty shift from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., but she also got paid to work a detail at a secondline parade from 6:15 p.m. until 6:50 p.m. Thomas-Ross received a letter of reprimand for the violations.
A new system, that was implemented in February 2022 was supposed to prevent officers from scheduling details when a duty shift was already on the books. The Independent Police Monitor touted the system in February 2023, but now NOPD leaders say it doesn’t work exactly as hoped and isn’t catching all of the overlaps.
“I said you need to find out why this is happening and what we can do to make sure that this is not continuing to happen,” Woodfork said.
For now, the NOPD will continue to manually check its officers to make sure they follow the rules and the law. Tulane Emeritus Law Professor Joel Friedman says the ultimate fix may be federal investigators. FOX 8 reported nearly two years ago that the FBI had launched investigations into several officers regarding the detail program. However, none of those officers have been charged or publicly cleared.
Friedman says until officers see a punishment that will include more than a slap on the wrist, violations could continue to happen.
“It certainly would send a message if some of these folks who were double-dealing, were indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced that would send a very clear message. This is a terrible cloud on the police department, and we need a police department, and we need it to be respected by the by the public.
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