Today, I was walking into Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to sit in on a hearing for Travis Boys, the perpetrator of the murder of Police Officer Daryle Holloway. It is important to the FOP to support the family in light of the tragic circumstances leading to the hearing. As I was walking in, I received a phone call from Daryle Holloway’s mother. Mrs. Holloway had called to say that she was grateful that someone had heard what she had to say at the City Council meeting and that the FOP had chosen to honor her son by presenting achievement awards in his name. As I was sitting in the courtroom waiting for the case to be called, I was thinking about an email that I had sent yesterday that basically said the Crescent City Lodge of the FOP welcomes participation by its members and that I regularly encourage members to get more involved in the organization. I also touched on some of the reasons why I love the FOP. The email was in response to a number of Facebook posts that made reference to “they” and “them,” intimating that there was some type of shadow organization which was really calling the shots in the FOP. I thought that I might write this article on why I love the FOP, which expands upon that email. This is one dues paying member’s story, who was lucky enough to be heavily involved in the FOP.
When I graduated from the NOPD Academy, I joined PANO. PANO had an attorney available to its members and I was interested in the labor end of the organization. Sgt. Ron Cannatella was the President of PANO at the time and he was also my FTO Sergeant. So, it seemed like a logical decision. In the late 1990’s, I worked with Becky Benelli and her husband, David Benelli, had succeeded Ron Cannatella as President of PANO. I went to PANO meetings and ran for office once. I did not win the election. I was still relatively new on the job and my opponent was a veteran patrolman. The organization was rather cliquish and I was not in with that group.
In 2000, I started law school at Loyola University. In 2003, I was promoted to sergeant. In 2004, I graduated from law school and I was also transferred to the Traffic Division. While I was working in the Traffic Division, I got to know Henry Dean, who was President of the FOP. Henry knew that I had recently graduated from law school and he asked me if I would like to do some work with the FOP being a representative for officers in internal investigations. I learned that there had been a big membership push and that the FOP had doubled its membership from 400+ to 800+. Henry explained to me about the FOP Legal Defense Plan and how that all worked for FOP members. I thought that sounded like a good opportunity to be able to put my recently earned law degree to good use, so, I told Henry I was in.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was still assigned to the Traffic Division. It is not my intention to tell my Katrina story, but I will say that I worked for Harry Mendoza, Mike Cahn, and Henry Dean at the time, and we had a good unit with good leadership. The Traffic Division not only didn’t lose any officers, but had officers who were legitimately out sick or injured return to work post Katrina. During that time, I had the good fortune to meet Pat Yoes, the FOP National Secretary and Louisiana FOP President at the time, and Jim Gallagher, the Secretary/Treasurer for both the State Lodge and the Crescent City Lodge. The two of them had arranged for a lot of supplies to be donated to the NOPD — BDU’s, clothing, boots, etc. They had also arranged for some other benefits for FOP members which would be paid directly to FOP members to help them with what was troubling times all around. At the end of the day, the FOP’s contribution to its members post Katrina totaled somewhere right around $1,000,000. It was a beautifully executed contribution to members who were clearly in need.
For me, following Katrina, the need for employee representation increased dramatically once things started to drift back toward normal. During that time, I worked closely with Henry Dean and Jim Gallagher. We worked on representing members and improving working conditions. As a result of an unfavorable court decision from the Louisiana Supreme Court, we found it necessary to work on amending the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights. Working closely with several key members of the Louisiana Legislature, we were able to have the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights amended when SB 144 was signed into law in 2007, adding what is now paragraph C of La. R.S. 40:2531. In 2008, I was given the FOP Member of the Year award for the State of Louisiana. I also left the NOPD in 2008.
At that point, I began practicing law full-time. As our hard work paid off, we saw a continuation of the increase in membership that Jim Gallagher had been instrumental in started and when Mike Sarver joined the FOP, he was member 1,000. That number increased to where 85% of the NOPD were FOP members and then 90% of the commissioned personnel of the NOPD were FOP members. While membership numbers have fluctuated lately because of manpower issues, FOP membership has consistently been 90% of the commissioned personnel of the NOPD and continues at that level today. As NOPD has worked to add police officers, we have seen a corresponding increase in membership with the percentage staying at about 90%.
The FOP attorneys at that point were myself, who was relatively new to the game, Eric Hessler, Ray Burkart, III, Ted Alpaugh, and Claude Schlesinger, who was and still is General Counsel for the Louisiana FOP and the Crescent City Lodge. We represented a lot of people in some big cases. I can’t speak for anyone else and I have not kept good numbers, but I have wins in about 40% of Civil Service appeals. The New Orleans Civil Service Commission doesn’t publish statistics, but for the Louisiana State Civil Service, employees were winning about 8% of appeals. So, I was doing fairly well.
The FOP Legal Defense Plan was a big selling point for a lot of people joining the FOP and for me. A number of people had expressed dissatisfaction with other legal coverage because there was only one attorney, who was at time controversial and also practiced as a criminal defense attorney which sometimes pitted him against police officers, and because people felt like they did not know if they would be afforded representation or not. The FOP Legal Defense Plan does not suffer from those vices.
The FOP Legal Defense Plan functions much like an insurance policy. If you were a covered member at the time of the alleged infraction, administrative, criminal, or civil, then you would be provided an attorney. You were free to pick your own attorney, but if he or she wasn’t on the list of approved counsel with the Legal Defense Plan, then there were some limitations in the form of a small deductible and an overhead cap. If you picked one of the attorneys on the list, there was no deductible, no caps, no nothing. You were covered regardless of who you were, what you were accused of, who you were friends with, how much the representation was going to cost or if it was going to require appeals. This appealed to me as a fair way to offer representation to police officers. A number of high-profile cases have been handled through the FOP Legal Defense Plan: U.S. v. Danziger Bridge defendants (except one or two who weren’t FOP members), U.S. v. Dean Moore, U.S. v. Robert Italiano, U.S. v. Dwayne Scheuermann, and others. The Legal Defense Plan provided attorneys to most of the officers who were called before the Grand Jury in both the Danziger Bridge case and the Glover case. It has been a tremendous benefit for many members of the Crescent City Lodge.
As time passed, there have been a few changes to the FOP Legal Defense Plan. At some point, the lodge decided that it would make out better if it handled the legal defense of administrative matters within the lodge, while maintaining the national FOP Legal Defense Plan for criminal and civil coverage. This is how it is today. The lodge implemented a system of core attorneys for administrative actions while relying on the approved counsel list from the National Legal Defense Plan for criminal and civil attorneys. Initially, the core attorneys were Hessler, Burkart, Schlesinger, Alpaugh, and myself. Over time, we have lost Hessler and Burkart as core attorneys. At this point, I have the pleasure of representing approximately 300-400 individual police officers and retirees a year. In any given month, I am able to help 80-90 individual police officers or retirees with their legal needs at no cost to the member other than the premium they pay as part of their dues.
I also began handling spokesman responsibilities for the Crescent City Lodge after Katrina in 2005. I handled media responsibilities until 2009. At that time, I was feeling a little burned out on dealing with the media and those responsibilities were turned over to Burkart. I have since resumed that responsibility as the result of a fallout between Burkart and the FOP Board. While I am a little skeptical of my on camera abilities, members often tell me how much they appreciate me speaking up on their behalf. As recently as last Tuesday, I was told by a well-respected retiree that he appreciated the professional appearance that I have lent to the on-air representation of the FOP. I certainly don’t say that to brag. I only mention it because it reassures me that it is something worthwhile and beneficial to the individual members and the organization. Just a couple of weeks ago, the FOP National VP was in New Orleans complimenting the Crescent City Lodge on its media presence. It is my understanding he holds the Crescent City Lodge up as an example as part of his normal talk on media relations when talking to lodges around the country.
We have been able to help police officers injured in the line of duty. Claude and Ted were able to help Andres Gonzales with the PSOB benefits, rebuilding his entire house to accommodate his disability, acquiring a specially built van, etc., etc., etc. The FOP has been there for many officers seriously injured in the line of duty. The FOP has a proven record of helping officers in their time of need. I have been out on almost every officer involved shooting in the past several years. I have responded to 20-F’s, arrests, dog shootings, and many other critical incidents where officers requested assistance. My phone stays on 24 hours and there are plenty of times I have gotten out of my warm bed when it was freezing cold outside to go help some police officer. Again, my intention is not to brag. My point is simply that the FOP’s goal is to provide service to its members. I do not need to request authorization when an officer calls me in the middle of the night. If I learn an officer needs help, I get up, get dressed, and go.
I have also had the opportunity to work on such projects as having the residency requirement repealed, changes to the pay plan, helping officers with injury designations, and the list goes on and on. The FOP provides free notary services to its members and some legal services for retirees and officers not related to work.
I have also had the opportunity to participate in many meetings with mayors, mayoral candidates, council members, presidential candidates, superintendents, state legislators, national legislators, and others to advocate on behalf of FOP members. Here is another thing I love about the FOP: I have often been able to invite other members to participate in these same meetings. Most recently, I had been able to invite Willie Jenkins, Guy Swalm, and Jake Lundy to meetings with Superintendents and others. The goal of the FOP is to be inclusive, not exclusive.
The other night I spent several hours at the Fifth District station. I went there to sit in on a statement with an officer who was working at night. I was able to spend time talking to numerous FOP members about whatever was on their minds that night. I was invited to speak to the night watch platoon at roll call, which I did. As usual, I sought input from everyone and urged everyone to participate and get themselves involved in the FOP if they have the time. I spoke to several officers about pending DI-1’s and it was an extremely beneficial visit to the 5th District, albeit a long and late one.
I have also had the opportunity to work closely with some amazing people who are dedicated to the FOP and its members. The other night when I was at the Fifth District, I got the normal questions from a number of people as to whether I every got any time off (I do). However, I know that no matter how much work I put in, there are people working harder than me. In particular, Jim Gallagher works tirelessly for the FOP. I am constantly amazed by his commitment and dedication to the FOP and its members. As I stated earlier in this paragraph, I take time off. I have three young children and a lovely wife that I try to spend as much time with as I can. Jim enlists his wife to work on stuff for the FOP. He is always available and always thinking of ways he can improve the services provided by the FOP, or improve, safety, salaries, and working conditions of NOPD officers. I have been given the Louisiana FOP Member of the Year award twice (2008 and 2014). Both times I stated clearly that Gallagher deserved it much more than me. There have been others that have demonstrated their dedication, such as Henry Dean, Walter Powers, the members of the Kitchen Crew, etc., but Gallagher is always working for the FOP — even when he found out he had cancer which required surgery…Pure dedication.
There have been some comments lately, and it isn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last, that seemingly intimate that there is some secret stuff going on in the FOP or that the FOP is being controlled by a few instead of being controlled by the members. There is no secret stuff going on and the organization is being controlled by rules put in place by the members. I will admit that most of the work in the Crescent City Lodge is done by a handful of people. Believe me when I say that is not by design. It is difficult, time-consuming work and trying to recruit people into leadership positions has proven a difficult task. That doesn’t mean that we stop trying, but it is difficult. Under Sgt. Powers, we have attempted to expand the role of committees in the FOP to spread out the work a little and get other people involved as a path to other leadership positions. The FOP has paid for members to attend the FOP Leadership Matters Conference as well as other conferences to get people more involved. The FOP has even invited leaders of other organizations to participate in conferences such as Leadership Matters. In August, more than 50 FOP members will be traveling to Pittsburgh for the National Conference to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the FOP. In 2019, the FOP National Conference will be hosted in New Orleans.
All of this brings me full-circle to the Awards Committee and the awards given earlier this week in honor of our fallen brother, Daryle Holloway. The Awards Committee was another effort to get more people involved. It was composed of four active officers who have not been on other committees, and myself. The Awards Committee did an excellent job and selected two officers who were genuinely appreciative of the recognition. Councilmember Guidry was able to come out and present the awards with the Awards Committee Chairman, Mike Sarver, and Sgt. Powers. Furthermore, Mrs. Holloway was thrilled with her son being honored in such a fashion. I think that it was a success.
I look forward to giving those awards again soon. I am looking forward to providing more critical services to FOP members. I am looking forward to serving my brothers and sisters. I am proud of the work I have done with the FOP and proud to have been able to work with dedicated people like Jim Gallagher, Walter Powers, Chris Landry, Ross Bourgeois, Bobby Lampard, and the list goes on and on. I hope to be able to work with many other FOP members. If you are interested in becoming more involved with the FOP, speak up. If you think you cannot because you are not in the right clique, you are mistaken. Even if you don’t have the time to hold a leadership position, try to come to a meeting every once in a while. I know that there are things I meant to say that I am leaving out, but this has already gone on way too long. My guess is plenty of people stopped reading some time back. In any event, I love the FOP and I love its members.