Criminal Justice

Trouble in the moonlighting

In addition to everything else going on with the local men and women in blue last week, a veteran NOPD detective, Herman Franklin, was charged with payroll fraud. The Times-Picayune notes that there is some controversy over the prosecutor’s decision, at first, to remand the detective and another officer to an alternative sentencing program that would let them keep their jobs. However, the very fact that this full-time NOPD officer was moonlighting as a Walgreens security guard is as revealing as the allegation that he committed payroll fraud by working both jobs at once.

Private security details are common for NOPD officers. There are more than twenty  private security patrols in Orleans Parish alone and countless commercial establishments that hire private security personnel. In the early and mid-1990s, moonlight security details came under fire after then chief of detectives Antoine Saacks earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own private security company. He used his position at the NOPD to deploy officers and equipment to staff the security details at film sets. The allegations against Saacks were symbolic of a general culture of corruption at the NOPD, not unlike today, in which there were several high profile cases of officers using their positions of authority to commit crimes themselves. When Richard Pennington was hired as superintendent to clean up the force, his new regulations on moonlighting ruffled feathers of officers. In January 1995, The Times-Picayune wrote a complimentary editorial after Pennington clarified the new rules, providing some interesting contextual details to the long-standing problem:

[W]e’re suspicious in New Orleans, and for good reason. We’ve heard promises of reform before. We may not understand the detail system, but we know how politics works.

New Orleans has a huge number of bars and nightclubs. In this town, liquor is everywhere. And barroom and nightclub owners have political influence. They are good contributors to political campaigns.

When you add that influence to police officers’ concern that their income will drop if they can’t work at bars, you have a potent mixture.

So when it appeared that Pennington was backing down, presumably with Morial’s support, it was alarming. Either of these men could lose public confidence overnight if they go back on their reform promises now.

Pennington put things straight Wednesday. In a statement distributed by Lt. Sam Fradella, commander of the police Public Information Office, Pennington said the only way a police officer can work for a bar owner is if the owner is one of a group of business owners who together hire a detail. The minimum number of businesses that can hire a detail is three, and the group can include only one bar owner. Even then, Pennington has to approve the job.

This was a concession to the owners of bars and nightclubs. They’re accustomed to having a uniformed police officer around. A police officer is much more impressive than a bouncer or even a private security guard.

But the bar owners won’t be able to have their own special officers the way many have in the past. Some officers have made more money from their detail jobs at bars and nightclubs than they have made from the Police Department. But officers who became fixtures at bars and nightclubs weren’t known to be aggressive when it came to enforcing laws against drug use, drug sales and allowing juveniles in the bars.

Three years later, The Times-Picayune wrote another editorial on the same subject.

When off-duty New Orleans police officers are providing security for the very same underground teen dance parties their department is investigating for illegal drug use, you know you’ve got a problem.

It… shows that police Superintendent Richard Pennington’s reforms three years ago didn’t wipe out every problem with off-duty security work. Indeed, it looks like it’s time for another review of the rules governing where and when officers can moonlight.

Faced with a system dominated by favoritism and plagued by excessive hours, the then- new chief in January 1995 restricted the number of hours an officer could moonlight each week and outlawed direct work for bars or liquor stores.

Those were good moves. Some well-connected officers were working more than 40 hours a week on after-hours security details, raising concerns about on-duty fatigue.

But the officer who worked outside security for Saturday night’s rave at a warehouse on Rampart Street says the job was approved by her supervisors. She also apparently isn’t the first NOPD officer to work a rave, either.

That raises all kinds of questions. How carefully are the requests for off-duty assignments being reviewed? Has the enforcement process gotten lax in the three years since Chief Pennington ‘s crackdown? What changes are needed on request forms so that supervisors can distinguish between a security detail for a charity’s fund-raiser and one for a rave?

It’s problematic when the police don’t feel they make enough from their regular salaries such that they must supplement their incomes with regular part-time or even full-time employment. The concern is not, I don’t think, that police officers sometimes do work other than that for which they are paid by the NOPD. This is a free country and people should be allowed to do some work on their day off to earn a little extra. Sordid situations seem to arise when moonlight details become critical to an officer’s basic quality of life, when officers are as motivated to protect their side-work as they are to improve their actual job conditions, and when regulations fail to effectively eliminate obvious temptations.

For instance, it seems too tempting for officers to half-ass an NOPD patrol after working late the night before in a private capacity – or vice versa. Worse, it seems like the slope to outright payroll fraud is far too slippery. Herman Miller is not the first veteran officer to get into trouble for double-booking himself.

From the T-P in 2007:

Capt. Joe Waguespack Sr., the former head of the Homicide Division and most recently the head of a juvenile crime division, was reassigned to a communications office desk job earlier this week, said Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo, head of the Public Integrity Bureau.

Defillo said his office is investigating criminal charges of malfeasance and payroll fraud. At issue is the work of Waguespack and others working off-duty security details for the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a movie starring Brad Pitt that is being shot locally.

Waguespack, a veteran of three decades, was in charge of overseeing the details for several months, according to Defillo.

NOPD officers don’t seem to think they make enough money to raise a family on a full-time NOPD salary by itself. Commercial operators and neighborhood residents don’t seem to feel safe enough to rely on the NOPD alone. Commercial operators hire NOPD officers to moonlight while neighborhood residents form security districts to hire NOPD officers to moonlight. NOPD officers apparently always need extra money so they’re always available to fulfill the demand for extra security. It’s either a brilliant example of the free market system at work or a perverted illustration of the criminal justice system that doesn’t work. Residents don’t expect the NOPD to make them safe and NOPD officers don’t expect the NOPD to pay a viable middle class salary for their 40-50 hours a week.

Here are the salaries and benefits paid to NOPD officers. I am not certain what appropriate compensation for a police officer should be. But cops shouldn’t have to work 100 hours a week to make ends meet. I’m not sure officers can work side gigs at 20, 30, or 40 hours a week while still performing at a high level for their day job.

My crystal ball says the next NOPD superintendent will once again have to confront his police force about moonlighting and officers will once again recoil at the prospect of losing outside income sources. I’d like to know what it would take in terms of regular NOPD salary to outlaw private security details entirely. Similarly, though it is a much greater question, I’d like to what kind of regular police protection would make private security wholly redundant for the neighborhoods and commercial operators that arrange to supplement the NOPD.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
  • Damn Damn Damn…
    Damn! This is good! No I mean Bad, but really Good Journalism!
    Hot Damn! Whoa!
    I mean, what can you add to this? It’s all here.
    This is like the old days, when people did like real shat!
    Only back then there was no one like you to cover the NOPD (like this) except maybe Clancy. But back then, because of the physical Press of Deadlines, the cops would get you before it went to print, if that was the problem in the first place which it usually wasn’t fool. What I’m trying to say is that a story like this simply would not have happened without The Lens in these days and times. Even now, what with the Tremeity of Mitchmomentum from the Super Bowl to Spring Training… I digress.
    I’ve been watching these cops for nearly 30 years off and on. Let’s not misunderestimate the profundity of what you have reported here.

  • Jane

    Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies also rely on details to make ends meet– they make $9.69 per hour and work 12 hour shifts, then work details all night to cover basic living expenses. Plus, most of them change back and forth every six weeks from the day shift to the night shift. My sister in law works there, and I see her exhausted sometimes. It’s dangerous and hard work over there without extra details.