Veteran NOPD officers plan to challenge their reassignments

Published: Oct. 2, 2012 at 3:28 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 9, 2012 at 3:28 AM CDT
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More than a half-dozen high-ranking NOPD officers say the department is trying to force them out. They believe they're victims of alleged discrimination and retaliation that they say is only getting worse.

In September, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas signed off on a personnel shuffle, spreading 26 new recruits throughout the eight police districts. Also included in that personnel order: the re-assignment of seven captains and a major to a newly-created Administrative Support Unit, which has apparently ruffled some feathers.

The captains are all 20- and 30-plus-year veterans, now Integrity Control Officers who've already been working in the districts under some lower ranking commanders.

Now Major Raymond Burkart, Jr., former commander of the Communications Division with more than 40 years on the force, joins them in the newly-created unit.

"He is now having to take orders from lieutenants and that doesn't work in the police world. It doesn't work for morale," says Eric Hessler, attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans.

He has put in an official request to address the Civil Service Commission about alleged retaliation, a hostile work environment, discrimination and labor law issues. He says it's not just how the high ranking officers were reassigned, but where that's cause for concern.

They were originally told they were moving into an old FEMA trailer on Lafitte Street, where the department was headquartered for more than two years after Katrina.

"It was in deplorable condition. It was uninhabitable. Nobody could have worked there. The floors had holes, the roof had collapsed, there was water damage and mold throughout the entire building," says Hessler.

The day after FOX 8 showed up to take pictures of the trailer last week, those moving plans changed.  Now, the Administrative Support Unit is housed inside a different trailer, located at the NOPD's Mounted Division at City Park.  That trailer doesn't have a bathroom.

FOX 8 contacted NOPD for comment.  Spokeswoman Remi Braden says, "This is the result of accountability issues resulting in 'Job Performance Improvement Plans' to be issued to certain ICO's. The move improves direct accountability to the Field Operations Bureau Commander & Bureau Chief, instead of District Commanders. The move improves efficiency."

As far as the working conditions, Braden says, "These accommodations are also used every day by officers who staff the K-9 Unit and their supervisor."

Hessler says it's clear the handwriting is on the wall. "It's obvious now that the department has taken to other tactics to drive the captains from the job into retirement, resignation or possibly into disciplinary actions with their eye towards termination," he tells us.

The Civil Service Commission meets on October 15.

One of the captains reassigned, Norvel Orazio, decided to retire instead, after 38 years on the NOPD.