NEW ORLEANS -- With the NOPD struggling to attract new officers and boost sagging troop strength, the recruitment division has become one of the department's most important.
And one of the most troubled.
Earlier this year, a critical report from federal monitors led to the removal of the civilian director of the unit, and more recently, the unit’s police commander was transferred while under internal investigation.
Now a third leader of the Applicant Investigation Unit has been removed under a cloud of controversy. Keia Stepter held the post for only five days before she was dismissed, civil service records show.
Stepter's initial application to become the new civilian director of the recruitment division was so strong, she was hired under an emergency appointment at an increased salary due to her “extraordinary qualifications,” according to the emails about her appointment.
Just five days after getting a tour of police headquarters and being introduced to other NOPD commanders, Stepter was fired because the Civil Service Department determined that she didn’t meet the job requirements after all.
Stepter began work June 6 as the Civil Service Department was still reviewing her paperwork under the fast-track appointment, according to the records.
One of the qualifications for the job is six years of professional experience after college graduation. While Stepter's resume didn't list her graduation date, her college transcript shows she graduated in 2014, making six years of post-graduate experience impossible.
“Apparently they were more interested in getting the position filled quickly than getting it filled properly,” said PANO President Michael Glasser. “That would be the problem. I think the next selection better be scrutinized a bit more carefully.”
After Stepter received a letter telling her of her dismissal, she wrote an email lobbying to keep the $68,000-a-year job. But Deputy Director of Civil Service Amy Trepaigner wrote back that Stepter erroneously answered questions about her experience when she stated she had 10 years of experience after receiving her college degree.
In her email, Stepter said she “misread the question.”
Fraternal Order of Police attorney Donovan Livaccari said that despite the urgency to ramp up hiring, the NOPD needs to be more careful in filling this important position.
The first civilian commander, former Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Wisbey, was transferred out of the police department in February after a scathing report about the performance of the unit.
Court-appointed federal monitors, working under a sweeping federal consent decree to improve deficiencies at the NOPD, found that 59-out-of-137 police academy recruits “had documented risk indicators without a corresponding explanation as to why or how those risk indicators were overcome.”
The police commander of the unit, Lt. Carlton Lewis, was transferred in May to a district patrol position due to an internal investigation by the Public Integrity Division. PIB continues to look into a complaint that Lewis had improper contacts with female applicants, an allegation that his attorney flatly denies.
Livaccari said the NOPD needs to make certain that the next person hired to lead the unit is impeccable.
“These missteps need to be avoided in general if we're going to make any progress in hiring,” FOP Attorney Donovan Livaccari said. “They need to stop, gather themselves, and figure out a sure course of action. It's more important to get it right than to get it done tomorrow.”
NOPD Communications Director Michael Tidwell issued this statement regarding Stepter.
“Ms. Stepter was hired as an 'emergency appointment' from the qualified applicant pool listed on the Civil Service register, to expedite her employment while her credentials were being verified. Unfortunately, Civil Service ultimately determined that she was not qualified for the position --- necessitating her termination.”
Stepter declined comment.