NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A plan to transport inmates to court is causing a lot of controversy. One crime watchdog says it will not only cost too much money, it would also cause even more manpower problems for the New Orleans Police Department.
For decades, inmates would be moved from the old Orleans Parish Prison to court through a secure area called the docks. But now that Parish Prison has been closed down, there have been security concerns about how those prisoners should be transferred from the new jail to their court appearances.
According to Orleans Parish sheriff's attorney James Williams, the city has offered a temporary plan until a permanent passageway can be built.
"While we wait for the city to move forward with approving and constructing a new docks facility, the city has offered to give, allow, New Orleans police officers to help secure the docks," Williams said. "Our staffing plan calls for that to be 16 in number. It's unclear how many of those officers will actually be used, but that is the plan right now that the mayor has offered to lend those officers to do that work in securing the docks."
But Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission has serious concerns about that plan and what it would mean for the city's budget and public safety.
"You are going to be paying police officers time and a half or taking them off the streets and regular duty to staff the docks," he said. "The sheriff is the jailer. He was elected by the public to take care of and keep the inmates, and part of his responsibilities is moving the jailed inmates from his jail into the courthouse."
We reached out to the mayor's office about this story, and they sent the following statement:
"We are eager to reach a master settlement with the Sheriff, similar to what was accomplished with the firefighters, so that we can resolve all of these issues related to the jail once and for all. The goal is have a right-sized, constitutional jail that makes our city safer without decimating city service. As part of our jail plan, the City previously proposed $3.7 million in FEMA money to renovate the docks, and the offer still stands. We are hopeful that the Sheriff's Office will work with us to find a long-term solution."
They did not however answer our questions about any potential plans to use NOPD officers to help transport inmates to court.
"A permanent, secure docks facility needs to be built yesterday on this thing, so now you're seeing the city proposing staffing it with police officers," Goyeneche said. "There's not enough police officers to police the city of New Orleans. That's the sheriff's responsibility, he's prepared to do it, he's devised a method and manner that he believes is in the public's best interest."
"The permanent solution is to build another docks facility and we are waiting on the city to do that. In the interim, if this is what they want to offer, we will take it, but it is not a long-term, viable solution for us by any means," Williams said.
We also reached out to New Orleans police. They tell us no agreement is in place at this time. In a statement, Chief Michael Harrison said:
"Prisoner transportation is the sheriff's responsibility. My top priority is to put our officers on the street where we need them the most and that's what I will continue to do."