By Adam Andrzejewski
What began as a simple salary data search on officers in the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has led to a months-long undercover sting operation and has recently ended with cop suspensions, a retirement, and further investigation by the FBI.
Now, the Public Integrity Bureau has flagged two-percent of New Orleans police off-duty work as possibly criminal and 29 officers are being investigated.
“We take the allegations brought to our attention very seriously,” NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson responded to our request for comment via email. “We are conducting a thorough and in-depth investigation and we will hold ourselves accountable to the high standards we set for ourselves and our community holds us to.”
This past fall, after getting tipped off by a local resident using Open the Books salary data, a local news station set up an undercover camera outside one police officer’s home. The officer was recorded taking out the trash and walking his dog during the exact hours he was getting paid to guard the local fairgrounds on what’s known as a police detail shift.
The New Orleans TV station that orchestrated the sting got a tip from a local professor who teaches forensics, Skip Gallagher. The initial case was built-out by a former city employee and current resident, Karl Von Derhaar.
Studying New Orleans salaries posted online at OpenTheBooks.com, Von Derhaar found officers making close to $200,000 a year. Those salaries seemed inflated.
After further investigation, Von Derhaar brought his research to Gallagher – who helped line up the media connections. The subsequent investigation uncovered a web of contradictions, overlapping double shifts, and some jaw-dropping undercover and public video.
Then, in November, in response to the investigative reporting, the city suspended 26 of its police officers from working the extra detail duty. As of mid-December, ten of the 26 had not been released from the suspension and reportedly may be under an ongoing investigation. One of the ten, the officer caught on undercover camera, has retired since the allegations came to light.
Then, on December 20th, the Public Integrity Bureau revealed that 29 officers were under investigation. Responding to our request for comment, the NOPD gave a lot of context:
“The New Orleans Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau continues to investigate allegations of misconduct regarding police secondary employment.
Thus far through the course of this investigation that the flagged incidents comprised approximately 2% of the paid details worked by commissioned police officers.
The NOPD and the Office of the Independent Police Monitor takes this 2% seriously and will hold officers accountable for any violations of the secondary employment policy. Each violation is undergoing a systemic review that includes investigating whether any violations were made by their immediate supervisors for failure to provide close and effective supervision.
Throughout the course of the investigation, twenty-nine (29) officers were alleged to be in violation of the rules and regulations as it relates to police secondary employment. We are reviewing all cases for potential criminal and administrative violations. Those investigations will be conducted by a team of investigators including the New Orleans Police Department, the Office of Independent Police Monitor, and the Office of Inspector General.”
Caught up in the investigation is 30 -year NOPD officer Todd Morrel, who made$192,901 in 2020, and $212,943 in 2019. Over the last four years, public records show Morrell has made $747,708.
Morrell is a race car driver and allegedly pursued his hobby while on the NOPD clock. Fox8’s news crew found public data and even a time-stamped video of Morrell racing a car at NOLA Motorsports at the exact same time he was listed as being on duty with the NOPD at a different location.
After Fox8 published its investigative pieces, Morrell submitted his retirement and served his last day as an NOPD officer on November 29. It’s unclear whether his work and his pay are under investigation.
Another officer, Sergeant Anthony Bakewell, was allegedly found by Fox8 to have worked an improbable 44-hour shift, starting on Valentine’s Day, taking only two hours off, and allegedly double-billing two overlapping hours on a detail shift at the Downtown Development District.
Donovan Livaccari, counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, told Fox8 in a written statement, that the February 14, 2020, date was an “all hands on deck” time as it was “toward the beginning of Mardi Gras 2020” which was on February 25th last year. Bakewell earned $166,219 in 2020 and $176,437 in 2018.
Police Association of New Orleans attorney Eric Hessler cast blame for the overlapping work on the office that schedules the NOPD officers’ detail duty. He toldFox8 that he didn’t think the overlaps “were intentional” and noted that the N.O. Office of Police Secondary Employment “failed miserably” in its oversight.
New Orleans public servants are not strangers to financial impropriety accusations. Even after mismanagement and design flaws resulted in the levee failures in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, public officials were showing up in bribery indictments dealing with levee reconstruction projects.
Police Department Already Understaffed
The NOPD lost 140 officers from its ranks this year, while only hiring 40. Unfortunately, according to Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, many of those 40 are still in training in the academy or in the field.
About the NOPD, Goyeneche told Fox8 “the police are overwhelmed”
In 2020, according to local news reports, about 600 NOPD officers, half their force, worked to earn a combined $9 million in extra compensation for detail duty such as patrolling local events and locations, including city fairgrounds.
On December 15th, New Orleans saw its 202nd murder of the year, which edged out 2020’s 201 murders. Violent crime is up 11% in New Orleans, shootings are up 16% (to over 450), with carjackings up over 160% from 2019 to 2021, according to local reports.
While no one locally is questioning the need for police presence, showing up is half the job.