Criminal Justice

Sheriff's Office buys gas guzzlers while taxpayers in city pick up the fuel costs

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman bought 46 vehicles for his office since 2008 with an average city gas consumption of just 13.6 miles per gallon, records show. Gusman has little incentive to buy fuel-efficient vehicles because the City of New Orleans, not Gusman’s office, pays for his office’s gasoline.

City Council Budget Committee chairman Arnie Fielkow drew attention to the issue at a hearing on the sheriff’s budget in March.

“Our whole relationship with the Sheriff’s Office is just bizarre,” Fielkow said. “You’ve got cars being bought by them that we’re providing fuel for.”

The arrangement stems from the terms of a consent decree, the result of a lawsuit filed by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1969, on behalf of all prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison. It asked that the city pay the Sheriff’s Office sufficient money to maintain constitutional conditions. The lawsuit resulted in the consent decree, a legally enforceable agreement between the parties.

The main portion of the decree sets the amount that the city pays the sheriff per prisoner, per day. An order establishing the fuel arrangement was added in 1989.

To his credit, Gusman has bought one electric vehicle, a Gem E2 Car. And the four Harley-Davidson police motorcycles he has bought since 2008 for a total of $65,000 get around 54 miles to the gallon in the city, according to a local Harley-Davidson dealer. But the majority of vehicles purchased by Gusman are gas-guzzling Ford Crown Victorias, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Ford and Chevrolet trucks, which get around 14 to 15 miles per gallon in the city.

The criticism is perhaps surprising, coming from Fielkow, who drives a gas-guzzling Ford Expedition courtesy of taxpayers. Likewise, the city has a fleet that has plenty of sport-utility vehicles. But Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently tightened the city’s take home car policy after an investigation by The Lens.

Among the vehicles bought between 2008 and 2011 were one Gem E2 electric car (left) for $8,600; 11 Ford Crown Victorias for about $21,000 each; and one Chevy Silverado truck for $20,000, records show.

Records provided by the sheriff’s office show Gusman bought 52 vehicles between April 1, 2008 and May 13, 2011 for a total of $1.1 million. But a full list of sheriff’s vehicles shows 78 vehicles are 2008 models or more recent. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Marc Ehrhardt did not respond to an email seeking an explanation for the 26-vehicle discrepancy.

In total, the sheriff’s office owns 275 vehicles, but the records make no distinction between marked and unmarked cars. Ehrhardt did not respond to questions asking why Gusman needs unmarked vehicles.

The Sheriff’s Office alsoauctions off vehicles periodically at very reasonable prices, with records showing that $62,155 was raised by auctioning vehicles at the last sale in May 2010.

A glance at four vehicles sold at the auction shows they were let go for between 29 percent and 88 percent below the Kelly Blue Book value for a car with similar mileage in “fair” condition. Ehrhardt did not respond to questions about Gusman’s auction policies or how the office ensures the best return on investment for taxpayers.

Car Sold by the sheriff’s office for Kelly Blue Book value for “fair” conditioned, no-frills version of this car from a private party. Percentage saving for buyer on Blue Book value
2001 Ford Crown Victoria, 117,504 miles $1600 $2,300 33 percent
2000 Ford Crown Victoria ,

181,716 miles

$1500 $2,115 29 percent
2001 Ford Crown Victoria, 110,172 miles $650 $3,050 78 percent
2007 Chevrolet Malibu, 10,923 miles $1200 $10,750 88 percent
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  • Incorporeal Matter

    There will always be an imbalance, wherever theft, graft, avarice and incompetence combine. Marlin Gusman, William Short, Earl Weaver, Rudy Lumbard (?) and all the other pseudo Chiefs and Majors; have stiped the OPSO of all intergrity and MONEY!!! I hope this is the begining of a long and deep probe, into the mismanagement of OPSO.

    The cars are tokens, that are doled out to the favored people… no based on necessity but on familiarity and recompense. For instance, William Shorts parimore, is assigned an un-marked unit. She is not a first responder. William’s Kids drive OPSO vehicles. Why? Because, they are William Short’s kids. Keep seeking and you will find another “aorta of corruption”.

  • Concerned Citizen

    The writer notes that the records provided reveal that 52 vehicles were bought between April 1, 2008 and May 13, 2011. He also notes that 78 vehicles are of the model year 2008 or newer thus leaving a “26-vehicle discrepancy.” What the author FAILS TO NOTE is that not only are there THREE MONTHS PRIOR TO APRIL in the year 2008 in which a vehicle could be purchased, but cars of a given model year are actually released the year before. Therefore, there are OVER THREE months in which the 26 vehicles could have been purchased. Orleans Parish Sheriff Office misleading the public? I think not. Sloppy Journalism? I know so.

  • 1*

    First of all, What Sheriffs office or Police department do you know of that doesnt have Crown Victorias? Second how many crown vics does Nopd operate, 400? 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. Third to the coward that commented that Chief Shorts “Parimore” isnt a first responder…SHUT UP, youre stupid, her car is marked and she IS a commisioned law enforcement officer. The OPSO does a job no one hears about, if you want to sling mud at someone call 911 wait on hold for 10 minutes then wait 5 hours for NOPD to show up.

  • Mark

    Come on, Crown Vics are the car of choice for law enforcement, they are proven and hold up well. I’d rather have law enforcement able to respond and pay a little more for gas then have them in slow fuel efficient vehicles. DUH!!!

  • Another POV

    I read your articles and agree with you sometimes. However, this article is just a horrible attempt by you to bash Gusman. As the others have said above me, Crown Vics are always bought by every police and sheriffs deparment in this nation. They are built for the strenous police work that LEOs sign up for. They are built to withstand being run on a 24 hour basis. Unmarked vehicles have lots of different uses. All LE departments have unmarked vehicles whether it be for supervisors or for doing surveillence or with in the OPSO case, what if you wanted to transport a high priority inmate without alot of attention….use an unmarked. Trucks are bought for equipment movement. Hello, they have a community service department that cuts the city’s grass. How are you going to transport lawn equipment with something gas efficent? Do you want to try to tow a trailer with a tractor on,with say a Chevy Aveo? Or how about all the boats the OPSO has now for another catastrophe like Katrina? The media bashed Gusman for not being prepared, well now he is. High water situations?? Wanna drive a Prius through high water/flooding….no! The search and rescue team went down to St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish during Gustav with about 10 boats to help out wherever they were needed. How do you tow these boats? Back to the unmarked units…every Captain, Chief, and Commander in the NOPD have unmarked units, go after them too. Just my two cents on the matter, do more indepth reporting before posting a story like this.

  • Thank you! Living near OPP, I can attest that there are constantly Sheriffs vehicles just idling, wasting gas, doing nothing. Open Gusman’s budget, then CUT IT and give the money to kids programs, something that actually works at stopping crime in the long term! OPCSO’s greed is CAUSING MORE CRIME IN THE FUTURE!

  • Disgusted Citizen

    There have been 97 murders in the city this year !

    You call yourself an investigative journalist, Why don’t you assist Law Enforcement in fighting crime instead of worrying about gas usage in a police car.

    Impress us, Solve a Murder !