Limits to Off-Duty Police Work in N’awlins Upheld

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – After a federal investigation uncovered widespread corruption in the New Orleans Police Department’s off-duty work system, unhappy officers failed to topple new reforms Wednesday in the 5th Circuit
     A request by Mayor Mitch Landrieu initiated the nearly year-long investigation into the department’s system of paid detail – private security work performed by off-duty officers for third parties.
     Among the report’s findings were that the officer-negotiated paid detail system “led to officers abandoning their official duties in favor of detail work, preferential treatment for private employers, officer fatigue, extortion of private businesses, lack of policing in certain neighborhoods, and undermined the chain of command by permitting lower-ranking officers to act as detail coordinators for higher-ranking officers,” the April 15 opinion says.
     New Orleans ultimately reached a settlement with the United States to reform the paid-detail system since the existing policies “undermined the quality of NOPD policing and facilitated abuse and corruption by officers,” the ruling continues.
     Walter Powers Jr., a New Orleans officer and president of the Fraternal Order of Police, filed a lawsuit to block the changes, which included a new ordinance that set hourly rates for detail work officers perform.
     Joined by Frederick Morton and the City Civil Service Commission, Powers claimed that the mandatory pay rate violated the contract clauses of the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions.
     After a three-day bench trial, a federal judge dismissed the claims against all the defendants, which included the city, Mayor Landrieu and police department officials.
     A three-judge appellate panel affirmed Wednesday, calling the ordinances “a reasonable exercise of the city’s police power.”
     New Orleans has the exclusive jurisdiction to set wage rates for police department paid details, the ruling states.
     “The challenged ordinances were passed to create an independent, centralized detail system to alleviate the problems created by the prior system,” Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote for the panel. “There is no question that stemming police misconduct and improving the quality of policing benefits the entire citizenry of New Orleans and qualifies as a ‘significant and legitimate public purpose.’ It is also clear that any impairment of officer-negotiated detail contracts effected by the ordinances was ‘reasonable and necessary’ to accomplish the intended reforms.”
     The 19-page opinion notes that the new system eliminates many of the police department’s deficiencies but “does not completely deprive NOPD officers of the opportunity to work details.”
     “Plaintiffs offer no argument as to how more modest reforms could remedy the problems identified by the city, nor would any argument be persuasive in light of judicial deference to the judgment of the legislature,” Brown added.

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