On Feb. 7, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Ronal Serpas formally announced the formation of Police Community Advisory Boards, one for each of the department's eight police districts. The boards, small groups of volunteers who live in each district, will, according to a city press release, "facilitate interaction between the NOPD and a committee of diverse citizens from a wide section of the community and will provide comments, suggestions, and recommendations to the Superintendent of Police on department policies and procedures to ensure best practices are in place."
The formation of eight small advisory groups seems innocuous enough. But this was actually a big deal, not so much because of the idea itself or its implementation, but because of where the idea came from. "The community advisory boards are a recommendation of the U.S. Department of Justice," the press release reads.
The NOPD and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have been quietly negotiating terms for nearly two years on an operating and oversight agreement —known as a consent decree. It's a sensitive process, says everyone involved on the local and federal side, and that's why they can't comment on it.
When it's done, NOPD officers will likely have to work under new, federally approved procedures guiding almost every part of police work: searches-and-seizures, off-duty details, use of force, interrogation, crime scene cleanup and recordkeeping — just to name a few problem areas DOJ singled out in its 2011 investigation of the department. And they'll have to do it under added scrutiny, not only from the feds, but, if past decrees (like the Los Angeles Police Department's 2001-2009 decree) are any indication, from city watchdog agencies like the Office of Inspector General and its sub-office, the Independent Police Monitor.
"This is a very tedious process that requires considerable time and effort. Departments throughout the nation utilize staff directly related to these duties in the formulation, negotiation and ultimate implementation of a Consent Decree," writes NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden in an emailed statement.
It's all undoubtedly quite arduous, which is likely why NOPD has brought in some additional assistance.
On Feb. 6, the day before the advisory board announcement, the city renewed, for a second year, its $65,000 annual contract with Daniel V. Cazenave. Since February 2011, Cazenave has worked as Serpas' deputy chief of staff and liaison to the DOJ during consent decree talks. Cazenave's company, Daniel V. Cazenave, LLC, which he formed in March 2011 shortly after securing the NOPD contract, is listed on the Louisiana Secretary of State's online corporation database. And the position appears as a line item in NOPD's 2011 and 2012 professional services budgets.
"Danny Cazenave was hired to provide all of the research, analysis and presentation of NOPD related information needed for the negotiations and eventual operation of the Consent Decree in the NOPD," Braden writes. "Mr. Cazenave has performed admirably and his service is contractual — the negotiations were handled by the City Attorney's Office. When his services are no longer needed, we will not renew his contract."
New Orleans Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, who worked for the LAPD's Office of the Inspector General during the consent decree years, says that department had a full department, headed by what was, in essence, a deputy department chief, working as a go-between between LAPD and the DOJ.
"I know Cazenave. I've seen him doing other things there, but I didn't know he was liaison," she says. "I've seen him up in the chief's office."
According to the "scope of services" section in Cazenave's contract, signed on Feb. 8, 2011, Cazenave has agreed to provide DOJ-requested information on the NOPD, advice Serpas on consent decree negotiations and consult with high-ranking staff on the implementation of new policies under the consent decree.
Subsection A3, under "scope of services," says that Cazenave is also supposed to "serve as public information officer on behalf of NOPD for interviews regarding dissemination of any information requested from the Office of the Superintendent relative to the DOJ and high-profile incidents." The key words there are "public information officer."
Oddly, though, for someone who signed a document stating he's a public information officer (commonly known as a PIO), Cazenave has been largely absent from any media coverage. Gambit couldn't find a single reference to him in any news story since he started his liaison job, including coverage of the consent decree itself. Someone in such a position, working back-and-forth between NOPD and DOJ, would seem to be able to provide valuable insight — if not into the negotiations themselves, then at least into how this very important process works. He might also offer a better idea of what exactly the liaison does than is available from his contract or a prepared press statement.
But Cazenave, whose contact information is in his contract, has not returned phone and email requests for an interview. Braden says simply that he's "not available for comment."
When pressed on why a public information officer isn't being made available for public comment, Braden writes, "The scope of services is clear and speaks for itself as far as I can tell. Any and all information released to the public is always coordinated through, and authorized by the PIO Office. Sometimes we give statements, sometimes we arrange interviews."
Hutson says she's not surprised that Braden won't make Cazenave available because the DOJ and NOPD have agreed not to discuss specifics of the consent decree talks while they're ongoing.
Once full implementation begins, she says, "I imagine he'll be more forthcoming, hopefully."
Retired NOPD Lt. James Keen, who also put in a bid for the position, says the problem might be that Cazenave's contract was poorly, or loosely worded.
"I take every proposal in loose terms. I thought the PIO part of that might be reaching out to the commanders and assisting in the process of implementing what DOJ wanted," Keen says. "Or it could be, hey, if they wanted that person to make a statement, that would be fine."
Braden has not responded to further inquiries for clarification as to what Cazenave's public information duties are, or whether he's fulfilled them.
Following Braden's Feb. 14 declination of the Cazenave interview request, Gambit filed two public records requests with the city: one to NOPD's internal affairs unit, the Public Integrity Bureau, on any complaints and disciplinary actions taken against Cazenave during his almost three decades as a police officer; and one to the Bureau of Accounting for his monthly invoices as a contractor. But those records were not available by press time. Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, responding to an email, writes only that he was not aware of the liaison position. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, whose office is involved in consent decree negotiations on the federal side, says in a phone interview that he can't comment on city matters — including whether he's aware of Cazenave's position.
So what little information that's readily available on Cazenave comes from his November 2010 bid for the contract.
"There is no other task in my life that I am more qualified and experienced than to work in a law-enforcement environment," Cazenave writes in his cover letter. "As my resume will indicate, my career as a law enforcement professional is extensive and I have enjoyed a reputation as an effective leader, a thorough investigator and an accomplished administrator."
Cazenave's proposal contains three letters of recommendation, including one from former NOPD 8th District Commander Edwin Hosli, a friend of Serpas, who was suspended last year during an investigation into his off-duty traffic camera detail and whether his district was inappropriately downgrading serious crimes to produce better statistics.
"I have never known Lt. Cazenave to shy away from a challenge," Hosli's letter reads in part. "Regardless of deadlines or pressure, Lt. Cazenave delivered."
According to his resume, Cazenave holds a bachelor's degree in law enforcement from Northeast Louisiana University (now UL-Monroe). He began his NOPD career in 1976 as a 5th District patrol officer, moving onto vice investigations, homicide, then offense against persons commander, where he worked as the NOPD liaison to the District Attorney's Office from 1987 to 1988. In the early-to-mid-1990s, as a lieutenant, he worked as assistant 7th District commander and the 3rd District's investigative unit commander. When Cazenave retired in 2003, he was working as fleet coordinator for the department's Technical Support Bureau.
"I like Danny. Danny's a good administrator ... It seems like he would have crossed his T's and dotted his I's," says Keen, who knew Cazenave during his own NOPD service. Asked whether he believes Cazenave was in fact the best person for the job, he says, "Second to me, yeah."
Keen worked for NOPD from 1976-2006, when he retired as commander of the Major Case Homicide Unit. Since then he's worked as the director of corporate security for the New Orleans Hornets, director of the University of New Orleans Center for Society, Law and Justice and started a security consulting firm training emergency management professionals. (Keen achieved some national notoriety as the man who assigned Detective Gerard Dugue to the Danziger Bridge shooting investigation. Dugue was later indicted for allegedly conspiring in a cover up. The case, which went to federal court in January, stalled when U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt declared a mistrial.)
Keen, who asked for an annual salary of $60,000 — $5,000 less than Cazenave — in his bid, says he received a rejection letter within a few weeks of Nov. 30, 2010, when he turned in the bid.
"The city of New Orleans, who I worked for for 30 years, has never been very expedient ... I was kind of surprised the process was so quick. I was actually pleased," Keen says, adding that there were no interviews. "That's not unusual with government agencies. They assign a board, and assign points. You come out 1,2,3,4,5, whatever."