NEW ORLEANS — In the eyes of the federal monitors overseeing the city's increasingly contentious consent decree, the NOPD is backsliding in the key area of internal investigations.
Along with the mostly negative report card, the monitors found that the Public Integrity Bureau made several missteps regarding one specific hot-button case: the investigation of possible payroll irregularities by Officer Jeffrey Vappie during his time serving on Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s executive protection team.
The Vappie case blew up into public view after reports of his irregular hours, his time accompanying Cantrell at the city-owned Pontalba Apartments, and his appointment to the HANO Board by the mayor.
In its 44-page report issued Wednesday, the federal monitoring team found that the Public Integrity Bureau violated the consent decree by failing to share its findings “despite the Monitoring Team making numerous requests for access to the investigators’ report.”
The monitors note that Vappie was removed from the security team and remains re-assigned despite an attempt by the mayor’s office to have him reinstated, but that was thwarted.
At the same time, monitors say they were shut out of the Vappie probe, a security breach allowed the public to hear confidential audio recordings of Vappie and other officers being interrogated by PIB.
While the city acknowledged that an “inadvertent leak” allowed the tapes to be made public, the monitors stated that “PIB failed to take the necessary steps to implement the protections it promised.”
In particular, the monitors criticized the city for prematurely sharing the recordings with the city attorney’s office and failing to keep the audio recordings on a password-protected device.
The federal monitors' criticism of the Vappie investigation comes amid a chorus of concerns about the case from the City Council, Office of Independent Police Monitor, and the police associations representing the majority of rank-and-file officers.
In general, the monitors acknowledged that significant progress has been made by PIB over the past decade and that the remaining steps to compliance are within reach.
“The operations of NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau are far improved from what existed at the time of the DOJ investigation in 2011,” the report states. “In certain areas, however, like the timeliness of investigations, PIB continues to come up short. In other areas, PIB has backslid.” debris
The report comes as the tensions over the consent decree have spiked. In recent months, Cantrell was unsuccessfully asking the court to wind down the expensive oversight and recently refused to send police commanders to hearings.
The city has yet to respond to the monitors’ report.
In a lengthy response, the NOPD addressed many of the findings of the monitors, reiterating the department’s goal of working toward compliance.
In addition to addressing some of the specific findings, the NOPD wrote:
“Under the current administration, the New Orleans Police Department will work in partnership with those who genuinely seek to help NOPD operate at its maximum capacity and potential. It is appreciated that OCDM separated its strongly held opinions of what could have been done and fairly graded our investigators and the PIB on what they did. Although NOPD created new policies, procedures, and protocols to address the issues that were discovered through this investigation, we look forward to reviewing further OCDM’s recommendations and seeing how we may utilize them best.”
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