NEW ORLEANS -- For decades, Saints games have been a sea of black and gold, with a touch of blue coming from dozens of New Orleans police officers who moonlight by providing private security at the Superdome.
But the NOPD now is in jeopardy of losing that lucrative assignment – as well as the New Orleans Arena – as a newly formed city agency tries to take over the role of assigning the off-duty work as part of a sweeping federal consent decree to reform the department.
According to Superdome officials, the city’s price tag for coordinating security at the stadiums has become a sticking point in negotiating an extension of the security arrangement.
While the costs have always been set by officers who coordinate the detail, the city’s Office of Police Secondary Employment is now proposing administrative fees that would push up the price tag by thousands of dollars per event.
“Certainly there have been some changes that we’re trying to work through,” spokesman Eric Eagan said. “Negotiations are continuing and no final decisions have been made.”
The city planned to take over the Superdome detail before this Saints season. But that timetable was scuttled by delays in the City Council passing enabling ordinances and, more recently, by legal challenges filed by the city’s two police associations.
This time, cold, hard business issues have become a stumbling block in continuing the NOPD’s largest and most lucrative details.
Rank-and-file officers are reeling at the prospect of losing the stadium assignments.
“It would be catastrophic to them,” said Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans. “At a time when we are suffering from a hideous attrition rate as it is, and we’re losing officers and having difficulty attracting officers to come on, this is not going to help. If people were considering working elsewhere, they might be working the 'Dome, but it won’t be wearing an NOPD uniform.”
Several weeks ago, PANO filed a civil service petition challenging the city’s proposed pay scale for the off-duty details, claiming that it sidesteps civil service rules. That was followed by separate state and federal lawsuits filed by the Fraternal Order of Police.
FOP spokesman Raymond Burkart III said problems securing the Superdome just add more fuel to the fire.
“The fact is, this is just bad business,” Burkart said. “This is what happens when city government tries to take over private enterprise. Now we believe it’s unconstitutional as we’ve stated in our lawsuits both federally and in our state court system. They need to stop. They need to stop now and let the officers handle it.”
Burkart said the threat of losing the department’s two biggest off-duty details might scare away other longtime security customers.
“It sends a devastating signal,” he said. “In fact, if anything, it tells people that if the 'Dome doesn’t like OPSE, why should you? It’s plain to see that nobody supports the Office of Police Secondary Employment. It’s time for that thing to go away. We urge the city attorney’s office to move the court for relief and take it out of the consent decree.”
When asked about negotiations with SMG, the company that manages the Superdome and Arena, city spokesman Tyler Gamble issued this statement: “NOPD officers provide the best service and value for security details and OPSE continues to market that message to current and potential customers.”
While acknowledging the delays in getting the OPSE up and running, Gamble said the agency started operating a handful of details over the past two months and has not confronted any difficulties.
The city is fighting the legal challenges to OPSE by arguing that the office is mandated by the NOPD consent decree, a sweeping blueprint for reform ordered by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan and signed by the city.
The portion of the agreement dealing with off-duty employment stems from a U.S. Department of Justice report that called the NOPD’s system of off-duty details an “aorta of corruption,” a system ripe for abuse and favoritism.
In its investigative report, the Department of Justice stated that the system: "1) drastically undermines the quality of NOPD policing, 2) facilitates abuse and corruption by NOPD officers, 3) contributes to compromising officer fatigue, 4) contributes to inequitable policing by NOPD, and 5) acts as a financial drain on NOPD rather than a source of revenue."
OPSE, staffed by a director and four other employees, was designed to address the Department of Justice’s concerns, while generating enough revenue through administrative fees to pay for itself.