NEW ORLEANS -- The commander of the NOPD’s Recruitment and Applicant Investigation Division is under internal investigation for alleged improper contacts with applicants. Lt. Carlton Lewis was transferred from the unit last month and moved to regular field duties in the Fifth Police District, records show.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison confirmed that he made the transfer amid an ongoing probe by the Public Integrity Division.
“I had to make an executive decision about a matter that was brought to my attention,” Harrison said. “We acted immediately.”
Multiple sources said Lewis, a 30-year veteran, is under investigation for improper contacts with female applicants.
Lewis's attorney, Theodore Alpaugh, said his client did not do anything wrong and he looks forward to defending him.
Alpaugh noted that the original complaint against Lewis came from a male officer, not applicants or recruits.
“We don't believe he did anything wrong,” he said. “We don’t think he has any culpability and we believe he will be cleared.”
The NOPD's applicant investigation division is the first stop for people who want to become New Orleans police officers. On the city’s website, Lewis is still listed as commander of the division, but records show he was transferred on May 14.
The transfer comes as the city is desperately trying to attract enough recruits to boost an understaffed department that has dwindled from 1,550 officers in 2010 to fewer than 1,160 today.
Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, said he didn’t have much information on the investigation into Lewis, but he did express concern that controversy continues to swirl around such a critical unit.
“The investigation infers a problem in a division that already has significant problems,” Glasser said. “Changing the top is never a sign of stability and consistency.”
In January, the civilian deputy chief of staff, Jonathan Wisbey, was transferred after federal monitors issued a blistering report stating the department hired some recruits with questionable backgrounds.
The 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 monitors described their findings as “concerning.”
“NOPD may be accepting candidates into the academy who should not be NOPD officers,” the monitors stated in the 28-page report. “While we share NOPD’s desire to increase its numbers with new officers, the integrity of the selection process must not be diminished to achieve that goal…It is critical that quality not be substituted for quantity.”
Following the report, Wisbey was moved out of the NOPD and into a position at City Hall. He later was cleared of violating NOPD policy following a PIB investigation.
Meanwhile, NOPD recruitment has been removed from the oversight of the deputy chief of staff. The city continues to advertise for a civilian leader to oversee recruitment efforts, but that position is no longer a deputy chief-level responsibility.
Harrison has appointed Lt. Sabrina Richardson, 21-year veteran officer, as the interim commander of the recruitment division.
“This is not crimping investigations or recruitment efforts,” Harrison said. “We're still full speed ahead. We have a good replacement who's working to fill that gap.”