Criminal Justice
 

Police monitor says she's working with volunteers, asks for a million dollars more

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

The city’s independent police monitor hired last year to be a watchdog for the New Orleans Police Department needs more money to do the job her office was created to do, she told the City Council today.

Susan Hutson’s three-person office is part of the Office of Inspector General.  Between $450,000 and $500,000 from the inspector general’s $3.6 million budget went to the police monitor in 2011, Hutson told the council, which is reviewing all department budgets in the city’s proposed 2012 budget.  She said that amount isn’t enough to record complaints and carry out investigations at the level demanded by U.S. Department of Justice officials working to clean up the NOPD.

“Right now, I have a staff of volunteers,” Hutson said. “We need an additional $1.1 million for 10 bodies to do investigations and audits.”

Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson said her office needs 10 more people. Photo by Ariella Cohen

The attorney and veteran law-enforcement official did not offer clues as to where the money would come from. Though Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed 2012 $494 million budget is slightly larger than last year’s, nearly all departments other than the police, fire fighters and recreation will see significant cuts in their budget.

The Inspector General’s Office is getting a modest budget boost, as well. That’s because voters in 2008 changed the City Charter to guarantee that office and the Ethics Review Board a total of at least .75 percent of the city budget total. Voters at the same time wrote the job of police monitor into the charter, as part of the inspector general’s purview. The Office of Inspector General’s budget is set to rise $50,000 next year, to $3,683,961.

The City Council helped to create the independent police monitor after several high-profile, fatal abuses of police power during and after Hurricane Katrina. Community activists pushed for the monitor for years before the council budgeted the money for it in the 2008 budget for the city’s first inspector general, Robert Cerasoli.

Both watchdog positions were products of a public push post-Katrina for a more open and accountable government, and as such, they were celebrated as structural changes that would help ensure a more honest government.

Now Hutson says she does not have the resources to carry out investigations truly independent of the NOPD. Instead, she and her two staffers record complaints and monitor the NOPD’s internal-affairs investigations.

“If you want to send the message to the police and to the public that we are serious about investigating complaints, you need to send the complaints to a truly independent monitor,” she said.

The council responded sympathetically to her request, though no promises were made. The practical question of where money would come from to fund a full build out of her office was only touched in the most conceptual and vague manner.

Councilwoman Stacy Head suggested that money be diverted from the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau.

“We should be giving the complaints to the independent police monitor instead of having them done in-house” at NOPD, Head said.

Another idea, from Councilwoman Susan Guidry, was that the money come from the inspector general.

“It seems to me that it isn’t like the monitor is a stepchild or something,” she said.  “It is a part of the IG office. You have a defined budget. Why can’t you budget for the police monitor?”

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said doing so would mean neglecting his own office’s duties.

“I would have to fire 10 people,” he said. “I have a staff of 27.”

The debate over how to pay for the police monitor ended with no resolution, which is customary at budget hearings. Other issues that provoked concern from the council were cuts to the Civil Service Department’s budget that could reduce the number of hearing officers for municipal cases and prevent tests from being given to certify firefighters for promotion. The firefighter tests have not been given since 2000, though it is standard to do them every 18 months in other Louisiana parishes.

How should New Orleans taxpayers’ money be spent?

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  • Jane Johnson

    First, the notion that the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau can be trusted to investigate complaints against police has long since been discredited. Fox guarding hen house thing. Second, the Independent Police Monitor shouldn’t just watch over the fox’s shoulder. If we want a true investigation of complaints against police, the IPM needs to do the job. Third, this takes money. I can’t think of a higher budget priority.