Absent from the fawning 60 Minutes profile of Mayor Mitch Landrieu on May 1 was any mention of the latest scandal to rock the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). The report mentioned some of Landrieu's challenges battling crime and blight, which easily rank as top priorities after Hurricane Katrina, but it ignored the growing scandal over unregulated paid details and their corrupting effects at NOPD. Specifically, there was no mention of the private company formed by 8th District Commander Maj. Edwin Hosli to examine New Orleans traffic camera photos. On one hand, crime and blight are torrents compared to the drip-drip-drip of the traffic-cam mess; but a steady drip, over time, can wear away stone. Unregulated paid details have been wearing away NOPD's integrity for decades.
The facts are these: In response to a lawsuit challenging the legality of citations issued via traffic cameras, the courts ruled that police officers must manually review and confirm each alleged offense. Hosli then set up a company, Anytime Solutions LLC, to provide the needed officers on paid details. By September, he had a contract with the city's traffic camera vendor; his contract was approved by the city's Department of Public Works (DPW). Hosli then hired off-duty NOPD officers to work paid details (at $35 an hour) reviewing the photos. Among the hires were NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas' son-in-law, officer Travis Ward, as well as one of the chief's bodyguards.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is investigating the circumstances surrounding Hosli's company and its contract, as is independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson and NOPD Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook, head of the department's Public Integrity Bureau. On April 29, the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking the feds to investigate as well. Even before this scandal broke, Landrieu had ordered Serpas to conduct a thorough review of the paid-detail system and to recommend reforms by Friday, May 15. Two weeks ago, Landrieu further ordered that Hosli's contract be canceled and that all violations alleged via traffic camera photographs be reviewed by NOPD's Traffic Division. That should have been the policy all along.
Then — drip-drip-drip — an internal NOPD audit of the 8th District surfaced. The audit, by Capt. Frederick Morton of the NOPD Inspections Unit, found even more problems with paid details, including questionable recordkeeping and evidence of officers splitting shifts, which is against NOPD policy. Shortly thereafter, Fox 8 News reported that Hosli was not the only NOPD officer to form a private company to manage paid details. According to public records obtained by the station, Sgt. Bradley Rhodes of the NOPD 2nd District billed the city more than $250,000 since November 28, 2010, through a company called Bradley Rhodes Security Consulting, which he formed in September 2010 — a month after Hosli's company was formed. Invoices show Rhodes' company billed for work done at the city's impound lots, booting yard and Administrative Hearing Center (where appeals from parking tickets are heard), with Rhodes charging a 10 percent supervisor's fee.
It gets better. Shortly after news broke about Rhodes' consulting company, it was revealed that Morton — who conducted the audit of Hosli's 8th District command — had ties to an outside LLC himself.
Amid all this, Serpas sent an email to NOPD brass reminding them that NOPD rules bar officers from forming any business entity for the purpose of billing, receiving compensation, or offering services of paid details. A day later, on May 5, Landrieu announced the immediate suspension without pay of Hosli and Public Works Director Robert Mendoza until the investigation is complete. (Serpas was absent from the mayor's announcement; the mayor said the chief was attending a mandatory training session in Baton Rouge.)
Abuses of the paid detail "system" have been around for generations, but Landrieu and Serpas now own this scandal. The problem is theirs to solve. As the chief drafts his proposed reforms, we suggest he look no further than Jefferson Parish, where the Sheriff's Office manages all paid details. We further suggest that an independent auditor periodically be hired to audit detail assignments to assure fairness and integrity. Somebody at NOPD, literally, has to start policing the police — and shutting off the drip-drip-drip of petty corruption.