URGENT NOPD EMPLOYEES – Take-Home Vehicles

THE FOLLOWING IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FOR NOPD EMPLOYEES:

The New Orleans Police Department, like many other police departments, issues take-home vehicles to some employees.  In fact, the NOPD intends to expand the number of take-home vehicles in use by department employees soon.  Recently, the NOPD ordered the first 100 of 400 new police vehicles which will be issued to FTO’s and platoon personnel.  For those officers who are issued take-home vehicles or may be issued take-home vehicles in the future, it is imperative that these officers understand the City’s take-home vehicle policy or risk personal liability in connection with these vehicles.

CAO Policy Memorandum 5(R) states that the NOPD can assign marked take-home vehicles to officers who live in Orleans Parish and travel to and from work to that location in Orleans Parish.  Otherwise, officers must live in Orleans Parish and have less than a 40-mile commute and be available and regularly called out on a 24-hour basis (think unmarked cars for detectives).  CAO Policy Memo 5(R) further states that officer assigned take-home vehicles can only use these vehicles for official purposes, including details, with one big exception.  Officers assigned take-home cars are allowed to use these vehicles for personal use when they are incidental to driving to or from work.  In other words, an officer can stop at the cleaners on the way home to pick up clean uniforms, assuming the dry cleaners is not in Tangipahoa Parish.

City vehicles should not be used to perform personal business. However, in some instances, take-home vehicles may be used to perform incidental, personal errands outside the course and scope of City business, so long as the errands are conducted to and from work without significant deviation, are brief in nature, and do not detract from the employee’s activities as a public servant.

This leads to the BIG CATCH.  The City is self-insured.  As such, it regulates its own insurance policies in conjunction with state law.  With regard to take-home vehicles, if an officer uses the vehicle for personal use, including driving to and from details, the City WILL NOT PROVIDE INSURANCE COVERAGE OR REPRESENTATION in the event of an accident and a lawsuit.

Such limited personal use, while permitted, does not fall under any coverage provided by the City’s self-insurance program.

CAO Policy Memo 5(R) Sec. XVI, Paragraph F reads as follows:

Insurance: Each Department or Authorized External User, authorized by contract, will require that every employee with a take-home vehicle provide a copy of their current personal automobile insurance policy or their current personal non-owned automobile insurance policy to the Appointing Authority. It shall be the responsibility of each department to ensure that insurance policies or proof of insurance coverage are submitted as they are renewed. Copies shall be provided to the City’s Risk Manager.

 

Vehicle use outside the scope and purpose of employment by the City, whether permissible or not, is not covered by the City’s self-insurance program. [Note that Authorized External Users are not covered by the City’s self-insurance program – See Certificate of Insurance Letter] Every employee with a take- home vehicle must endorse their current Personal Automobile Policy to provide coverage for Non-Owned Autos, including Physical Damage Coverage and provide evidence of the coverage in force. Minimum personal automobile insurance coverages and limits required of employees with take-home autos are as follows:

 

i. Automobile Liability, Bodily Injury and Property Damage Liability – Mandatory State Minimum Financial Responsibility Limits.
ii. Uninsured Motorist – No less than the Minimum Financial Responsibility limits, or your liability limits, whichever is greater.
iii. Comprehensive and Collision – Any deductibles will be the sole responsibility of the employee and will not be borne in any way by the City, for damage due to accidents outside the scope and purpose of employment by the City.
iv. Non-owned coverage including Bodily Injury and Property Damage Liability and Physical Damage (“Comprehensive” and “Collision”).

 

Any employee with a take-home vehicle that does not own a personal vehicle or have a Person Automobile Insurance Policy in force must purchase a Personal Non-Owned Automobile Liability and Physical Damage Coverage (“Comprehensive and Collision”).

 

The Auto Liability limits shall be at least the Mandatory State Minimum Financial Responsibility Limits for bodily injury and property damage. Any deductibles will be the sole responsibility of the employee and will not be borne in any way by the City, for damage due to accidents outside the scope and purpose of employment by the City.

Police Officer Jason Samuel was involved in an automobile accident driving his take-home police car on November 14, 2010.  Officer Samuel was on his way home from a detail when, while sitting at a red light, his foot slipped off the brake and he struck the vehicle in front of him.  Fortunately for Officer Samuel, he was a member of the FOP Legal Defense Plan.  The City Attorney’s office advised Officer Samuel that they would not be representing him in connection with the lawsuit following this accident.  Officer Samuel’s insurance company told him the same thing.  Officer Samuel was ultimately represented by Tony Livaccari, Livaccari Law, through the FOP Legal Defense Plan.  While the FOP Legal Plan provided Officer Samuel an attorney, it did not pay the settlement in the matter.  Ultimately, that would end up costing Officer Samuel more than $5,000.00.

Police Officer Robert Ponson is in the same boat.  Officer Ponson was involved in an accident on the way home from a detail and was involved in an accident in his assigned take-home vehicle.  Officer Ponson was also advised that the City Attorney would not provide him with representation since he was on the way home from a detail.  His insurance company indicated the City should be representing him.  Again, the FOP Legal Plan will be providing representation for Officer Ponson.

It is imperative that officers who are assigned a take-home vehicle call their insurance agents or insurance companies and arrange for non-owned vehicle coverage.  Officers should make the situation perfectly clear.  If the insurance company does not write that coverage, then the officer needs to either get an additional non-owned vehicle policy, change insurance companies, or give the take-home vehicle back.

Officers have to understand that their personal assets are exposed should they get in an accident if they are not properly insured.  It is simply not worth the risk to operate a take-home vehicle if the security of the officer’s family is compromised.  Soon, the NOPD will be offering 400 take-home vehicles to officers who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be assigned a vehicle.  The temptation will be strong.  Leaving the car at the station is not an option if the car will be used to drive to and from details.  The bottom line is get the insurance or give the car back and make sure you belong to the FOP and the FOP Legal Defense Plan.

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U.S. Fifth Circuit Case Alert

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Officer should be aware of the below case.  The Fifth Circuit held that officers who are aware of a constitutional violation can be liable under bystander liability if they fail to intervene.  In such a case, because the law is clearly established, an officer will be denied qualified immunity.  It is additionally a violation of many department policies (including NOPD) to fail to intervene in an unlawful use of force.

Fifth Circuit

Hamilton v. Kindred, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 623 (5th Cir. Tex. Jan. 12, 2017)

Brandy Hamilton and Alexandria Randle were pulled over by Officer Turner for speeding. After Officer Turner smelled marijuana, he ordered the women to exit their vehicle. Hamilton was wearing a bikini bathing suit, and Randle was similarly dressed. Officer Turner handcuffed the women and searched their vehicle. During this time, Officers Ron Kinard and Amanda Bui arrived. After Officer Turner searched the vehicle, he asked Officer Bui to search Hamilton and Randle. Officer Bui conducted a body cavity search on both women while on the side of the road. Hamilton and Randle subsequently filed a lawsuit against the three officers under 42 U.S.C. §1983 claiming the invasive cavity searches violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Officers Turner and Bui reached settlement agreements with Hamilton and Randle. Officer Kindred argued that Hamilton and Randle failed to adequately allege that an excessive use of force occurred. In addition, Officer Kindred argued that he could not be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a bystander for not intervening to prevent the body cavity searches; therefore, he was entitled to qualified immunity.

The district court denied Officer Kindred qualified immunity. The court found that Hamilton and Randle had adequately alleged a claim of excessive force. The court also held it was clearly established at the time of the incident that bystander liability applied. In addition, the court concluded that there was a serious dispute as to material facts in the case regarding the objective reasonableness of Officer Kindred’s actions. Officer Kindred appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

First, to bring a § 1983 excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that she was seized. Here, the court of appeals found that Hamilton and Randle clearly alleged in their complaint that they were seized during the traffic stop when they were handcuffed and placed in the officers’ patrol cars. In addition, the women alleged that they were detained for over thirty minutes and subjected to invasive body cavity searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Second, the court held that Officer Bui’s insertion of her fingers into the plaintiffs’ body cavities constituted a use of force, which the plaintiffs allege occurred during their seizure.

Third, at the time of the incident, it was clearly established that it was not reasonable to conduct a roadside body cavity search, unless there were exigent circumstances that required the search to be conducted on the roadside rather than at a medical facility. Consequently, the court found that Hamilton and Randle alleged facts showing that they were subjected to an unreasonable use of force “excessive to its need.”

The court further held, at the time of the incident, it was clearly established in the Fifth Circuit that an officer could be liable as a bystander in a case involving excessive force if he knew a constitutional violation was taking place and he had a reasonable opportunity to prevent the harm.

However, because there were serious disputes as to material facts regarding Officer Kindred’s potential liability as a bystander, the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction to hear this portion of the case and dismissed Officer Kindred’s appeal.

For the court’s opinion: http://cases.justia.com/federal/appellate-courts/ca5/16-40611/16-40611-2017-01-12.pdf?ts=1484267434
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Unclassified Positions and Reform in the #NOPD

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Recently, I wrote about the New Orleans Police Department’s request to the New Orleans Civil Service Commission for the creation of 16 new unclassified jobs in the NOPD.  The NOPD made its pitch at the February 20, 2017 meeting of the Civil Service Commission and it received some media attention here and here.  The Civil Service department opposed the creation of these unclassified positions, referring to the request as “unprecedented.”  After hearing from the NOPD, myself, on behalf of the FOP, Capt. Mike Glasser, PANO, Lt. Keith Joseph, BOP, and a few others, the Civil Service Commission took no action to allow the Civil Service Department to complete its work and put the matter on the agenda for the March meeting (March 20 if anyone wants to accompany me on behalf of the FOP).

I do not intend to re-post my argument against the creation of the unclassified positions, but for those who have not had the chance to read this article or my letter to the Civil Service Commission in this regard, the Civil Service Rules, which have the force and effect of law, require that in order for a position to be considered unclassified, the job’s responsibilities are not appropriate for anyone in the classified service and should not be performed by anyone in the classified service.  Furthermore, someone serving in an unclassified position must have policy-making authority which is not subject to further review or modification.  Finally, the Civil Service Commission is required to audit the position regularly to make sure that it is still not fit for the classified service.  As both Superintendent Harrison and myself made a point of saying, unclassified positions are the exception to the rule in a merit-based system of employment like Civil Service.

Currently, there is no “Commander” position, really.  There is a “Commander” assignment.  The Commander assignment, which must be filled by someone holding the rank of Police Lieutenant or higher, comes with a special rate of pay.  While I am unaware of anyone actually pushing this particular issue, the NOPD stated that one of the reasons we need to reconsider this special rate of pay is that a special rate of pay does not confer any grant of authority.  So, the question is does a Police Lieutenant in the position of Commander have the authority to issue orders to a Police Major?  While I am unaware of anyone pushing this issue, there are reasons to reconsider the use of a special rate of pay for commanders.  The majority of people assigned to Commander positions are in the rank of Police Lieutenant.  Police Lieutenants are non-exempt employees.  That means they should make overtime like all other non-exempt personnel under the FLSA.  However, they do not get overtime.  They are currently being treated as exempt employees.  While their pension is controlled by their actual rate of pay, terminal leave is paid to these individuals based on their Civil Service classification.  Finally, it is just an abuse of the special rate of pay provisions.  This special rate of pay scheme was put in place in 2011 after the Civil Service Commission told then Superintendent Serpas that he could not have 16 unclassified Police Colonel positions.

So, if the positions were not fit to be unclassified in 2011, what has changed that would make them appropriate today?  Well, while not answering the preceding question, Superintendent Harrison said that Department of Justice report which led to the current Consent Decree indicted the prior leadership “had largely acquiesced to wide-spread abuses by officers at all ranks.”  Superintendent Harrison went on to praise the accomplishments of individuals currently in the position of Commander.  Finally, the Superintendent insisted that it was critical that he be able to “swiftly replace leaders who are not performing to standard.”

What is exceedingly clear from the arguments made by Superintendent Harrison is that the NOPD has some good leaders in the position of Commander and that Commanders are performing the jobs previously held by officers in the classified service and that Commanders do not have the type of policy-making authority that is not subject to further review or modification.  What is clearly lacking is any logical connection between the existence of the Commander special rate of pay and any of the accomplishments of the folks holding those positions.

During the meeting, Commissioner Stephen Caputo, the newest member of the Civil Service Commission, noted that on several instances in my letter to the Commission I stated the position of Commander had been historically held by Police Captains and Police Majors.  He then asked if I was advocating for the status quo, or doing things as they have always been done.

My response was that I was not arguing for the status quo, but that the Civil Service Rules require that the job responsibilities be unfit for performance by anyone in the classified service.  History shows us that prior to 2011, the job responsibilities were performed by employees in the classified service.  Nothing has changed to make the jobs unfit for the classified service.

That does not mean that we have to maintain the status quo.  For example, the NOPD has the longest working-test period for employees.  Working-test periods, otherwise known as probationary periods, are set at 6 months in the Civil Service Rules with a maximum of 1 year.  The NOPD has 1-year working-test periods across the board.  That means that if someone is promoted to the rank of Police Captain and is unable to meet expectations, they can be demoted to their prior classified position — for just about any reason.  Generally speaking, if someone is incapable of performing a job, that incompetence will reveal itself within a year.  My point is that before we go shopping for a new toolbox, maybe we should make sure that we are making the best use of the tools we already have.

Civil Service Commission Chair Michelle Craig said that the Commission wanted the opportunity to examine best practices.  While the idea of “best practices” aggravates me to no end, I was fascinated by Superintendent Harrison’s reply that NOPD was re-writing the best practices and, therefore, what they are doing is the de facto best practice.

In today’s environment of instant gratification, we have to be able to point out real-time problems to demonstrate why these ideas that run contrary to the civil service philosophy should be avoided.  That is an impractical demand.  However, make no doubt about it, it is coming.  There will be a discriminatory application of the “Great Place to Work Initiative,” if there hasn’t been one already.  The creation of 16 unclassified Commander positions, would eventually prove problematic.

The first merit-based civil service system can be traced back to Imperial China and Emperor Wen of Sui (AD 605).  It wasn’t until the 1940’s that Louisiana embraced the civil service system.  Even then, it was repealed in 1948 and re-established in 1952.  Since then, more than a few changes have been made to how civil service systems are administered.  However, the idea of a merit-based system of employment utilizing objective standards and competitive testing has persisted.

So, while I am not advocating doing things as we did them in 1992, I am advocating the maintenance of the underlying set of guiding principles which have served us well for a long time.  We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.  We don’t ditch democracy just because there is a more efficient way to administer the Department of Education.  The New Orleans Civil Service Commission has taken some steps recently which are downright scary.  The “Great Place to Work Initiative” dismissed important civil service principles relating to promotions and competitive exams.  Of course, the NOPD would point to successes of newly promoted sergeants or lieutenants as if that is the result of the new system in some way.  If you are thinking they wouldn’t do that, that is exactly what they are doing with the Commander position.  Granting the NOPD 16 unclassified positions to replace the special rate of pay for Commanders would be counter to the underlying fundamentals of the civil service system.  Does that mean it has to be done the old way?  No.  It just means it shouldn’t be done the way the NOPD has proposed.

NOPD Disciplinary Regs

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On May 15, 2016, the NOPD enacted new disciplinary regulations. The effects of these disciplinary regulations have not been felt up to this point. This is because investigations resulting from dates of occurrence before May 15 have been handled under the old procedure. However, investigations resulting from alleged incidents occurring after May 15 will be handled using the new procedure.

There are two major impacts to the disciplinary system resulting from the new regulations. First, the number of repeat offenses is going to increase. Whether a sustained violation is a second or third offense will be based on the category of the offense and its proximity to other incidents in a similar category. The categories are determined by looking for a letter near the violation which will correspond to a particular penalty range.  In the past, an officer needed to commit the same violation for the violation to become a second offense.  Now, the violations could be completely unrelated and still become a second or third offense.

The second significant impact will be the way disciplinary hearings are conducted.  The bureau conducting the investigation will now make the determination of whether the investigator’s recommend a disposition stays as recommended or not in a pre-disposition conference. In the not so distant past, the investigator’s recommended disposition would be reviewed by the officer’s command to make a determination as to whether that recommended disposition stood.

For example, if an officer assigned to the Operations Bureau was investigated by PIB for a violation which was ultimately sustained, the disciplinary hearing would have been held in its entirety by a member of the Operations Bureau. Now, in those same circumstances, a pre-disposition conference would be held by PIB which would determine the final disposition of the matter and only the penalty would be decided by the Operations Bureau.  If the Operations Bureau conducts the investigation, then the Operations Bureau would conduct the pre-disposition conference and the pre-disciplinary hearing to determine the penalty.  If the officer is assigned to ISB, MSB, or the Superintendent’s staff, you can substitute ISB, MSB, or Superintendent’s Staff for Operations Bureau in the above example.

This removes one of the checks and balances that previously existed. I suspect that the results will be an increased number of sustained violations and an increased number of Civil Service appeals. Fortunately, you have the FOP Legal Defense Plan and dedicated attorneys.  If you do not have the FOP Legal Defense Plan, it is never too late to join.

For alleged violations which occurred before May 15, 2016, the old system and the old disciplinary penalty matrix should be used. For any alleged violations occurring after May 15, the new system and the new penalty matrix will be used.

I want to encourage members to call as soon as they learn about an investigation. It is better for me to be involved as early as possible. If more of these investigations end up in appeals, as I suspect, it will be better for the officer if I am involved earlier in the process.

Remember, there is no cost to the member for legal services covered by the FOP Legal Defense Plan. Also, it is important to remember that in order to qualify for the salary reimbursement option, you must be represented by an FOP attorney during the course of the investigation.

Finally, I want to recommend to FOP members that you use the app Signal for private text communications. This app is available for iOS, Android, and Chrome for desktop. It is free and is super simple to set up. No account is needed — only a phone number.  Best of all, all messages sent and received using Signal can only be read by the sender and recipient because they are encrypted end to end.

To recap, I want to encourage all members to call your FOP attorney as soon as you learn of a disciplinary investigation. If you are notified via email of a Civil Service extension hearing, that means you are an accused officer in a formal disciplinary investigation (also a good time to call).  The changes to the disciplinary regulations make it more important than ever for you take advantage of the representation available to you.

Opinions are like ________. Everybody has one.

Today (9/30/16), Jarvis DeBerry published his opinion on the recent interest in the NOPD’s investigation into the sex crimes unit and several officers that resulted from a report by the Office of Inspector General.  Mr. Debeery’s opinion is not that of a reporter — someone interested in ascertaining the facts of a situation.  Mr. Debeery’s opinion is exactly that — an opinion — based on fallacies and prejudice.

Let’s start with what is true (partly).  Mr. Debeery charges that my statements about this investigation prove “the unions (the FOP) reflexively defend their members, no matter the details of criticism.”  I am an attorney.  Several of the officers investigated by the NOPD in this matter are my clients.  The relationship is attorney (me) – client (officer).  The FOP is not a party to that relationship.  A lawyer should act with “commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy on the client’s behalf.”  I have a responsibility to defend my clients.  That is what I was hired to do.  While it is true that the Fraternal Order of Police in New Orleans does not hesitate defend its members when it is called for, that simply does not fit into the equation in these circumstances.

Mr. Debeery seems to find it incredulous that I indicated that I did not know what the officers were accused of.  He says “But there’s no excuse for Livvacari not knowing what the accusations are.”  He then refers to the November, 2014 report by the Office of the Inspector General making which made their “transgressions” “quite plain.”

Mr. Debeery states that the Inspector General “didn’t treat it’s investigation in to the sex-crimes unit like the typical report that accuses an agency of being wasteful with its resources.”  I agree with that statement and maybe this investigation is an indication that the Inspector General should stick with what he knows.

The first thing cited by Mr. Debeery from the Inspector General’s report is that 1,290 sexual assault and child abuse cases had been assigned to five detectives and 86% of those had not been followed up on with an investigative report.  He goes on to say that 2/3 of those cases (840) were labeled as miscellaneous incidents.  On its face, this appears to be problematic for those five officers.  However, it was not long before the NOPD determined, and announced publicly, that 677 of those 840 cases were sex offender registry checks.  That is, sex crimes detectives were responsible for verifying that the information provided by sex offenders following their convictions was correct.  Those 677 cases were properly classified as miscellaneous incidents.  The NOPD has since created a new category for sex offender registry checks, but they are still not sex crimes investigations requiring follow-up.  The report, along with Mr. Debeery, also ignores the system of 21-x and 21-y signals designed by the police administration in an attempt to pigeon hole cases which required more information before they could be properly classified.  The report also relies on the lack of supplemental reports by officers on investigations as an indication that detectives were being lackadaisical.  This demonstrates a lack of knowledge of police procedure on both Mr. Debeery’s part and the Inspector General’s part.  The investigation into this matter also revealed that some of the case identified by the Inspector General’s report had already reached their conclusion in the criminal justice system — the cases had already been prosecuted and had come to their conclusion.  This would not be possible if they had been ignored as the Inspector General’s report had declared.  There were likely some cases which did not get the attention they deserved.  But, supplemental police reports are only required when evidence was logged in or an arrest was made.  Otherwise, updates were logged in the case management system (CMS).  This is an overly simplistic explanation, but the short version is that manpower, not indifference, was responsible for cases which were not followed up on as thoroughly as the detectives would have liked.

Debeery then goes on to recount the Inspector General’s allegation that a child younger than 3 appeared at a hospital with a sexually transmitted diseased and that Akron Davis ignored this.  The lack of follow-up by Debeery, or possibly his inattention to information learned at a later time, much like the OIG’s inattention to detail, leads to reckless allegations such as this which are damaging to Detective Davis’s reputation.  First of all, this case was not assigned to Detective Davis.  Secondly, and much more importantly, the NOPD had already investigated this case and was well-aware of how this child had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.  There is a case file several inches thick on this particular child.  So, the NOPD already knew the source of the sexually transmitted disease.  How much time should Detective Davis have spent determining the source of the sexually transmitted disease when there were so many other victims the understaffed unit had to try to help?  He then points to two other cases which Detective Davis would not have enough information to defend, explain or take responsibility for.

The next case cited Mr. Debeery is when Sgt. Merrell Merricks allegedly backdated an investigative report requested by the Inspector General.  This clearly shows a lack of understanding of police procedure.  In any event, those charges were not substantiated against Sgt. Merricks.  I do not represent Sgt. Merricks.  The same is true of the allegations about Detective Williams and his report writing.  Finally, Mr. Debeery cites a statement allegedly made by Detective Damita Williams regarding the applicability of a simple rape charges.  There is no context to this statement.  Did you know there are circumstances when simple rape is not an applicable charge?  For example, a husband cannot be accuse of simple rape of his wife.  Context is important.

Mr. Debeery winds up with his opinion that this should have been enough information for me and the public.  Unfortunately, I know more about this investigation than the public.  I certainly know more about this investigation than Mr. Debeery.

The Louisiana Constitution, something I would think Mr. Debeery would favor being applied to everyone as it was intended, establishes due process for civil service employees.  The process that is due requires that civil servants be apprised of the exact violations leading to disciplinary action.  The obviously flawed report by the Inspector General is insufficient to satisfy that requirement.  I should know the details of the circumstances leading to the discipline of my client.  That is the law.

We agree on one thing:  there has been a significant change in the operation of that unit (except that the detectives are still under water with an exorbitant case load).  This is a good thing.  This is also the only thing that really addresses the problems, in general terms, that existed in the structure of the sex crimes unit.  Disciplinary actions taken against good officers are not what led to this improvement.

What types of disciplinary investigations should I contact my #FOP attorney about?

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The short answer to this question is ALL of them.  There is no investigation too simple or straightforward.  Quite often I hear “I didn’t call you because it was just a missing court case” or “I didn’t call you because it was just a BWC case.”  Unfortunately, my response is commonly “Well, one of the rules of the Salary Reimbursement Option is that you have to be represented by one of the FOP attorneys in order to qualify for the SRO.”  What is an SRO you ask?

The FOP Legal Defense Plan includes what is known as the Salary Reimbursement Option (“SRO”).  The SRO allows officers to make up for salary lost as a result of an unpaid suspension.  In New Orleans, the SRO allows officers to recover up to 5 days of suspension at $150 per day.  In other words, when you get a 1-day suspension for missing court, the FOP will pay you $150 if you choose not to file a Civil Service appeal.

Why not file a Civil Service appeal?  Well, that is the benefit of having one of the FOP attorneys on the case from the beginning.  Your FOP attorneys have been handling disciplinary actions for years.  By the end of the investigation, your FOP attorney should be able to give you a pretty good idea of your chances of success on appeal.  So, after a disciplinary hearing, you and your FOP attorney can discuss whether you are better off filing an appeal with Civil Service or submitting the disciplinary letter for the Salary Reimbursement Option.

I deal with disciplinary investigations every day.  Most officers deal with disciplinary investigations 2 or 3 times in a career.  As such, one cannot expect officers to be thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs of being an accused officer in a disciplinary investigation.  What is the legal burden?  What evidence is allowed?  When does the 60-day rule apply?  When does the 60 days begin and end?  Is the disciplinary hearing considered part of the 60 days?  How long after a disciplinary hearing can an officer expect to receive the disciplinary letter or suspension days?  When can I file a Civil Service appeal?  What is this email I received about a hearing about an extension that cannot be continued?

The answers to some of these questions change based on rulings of appellate courts in Louisiana.  The answers to other questions changes based on changes in an administration.  The point is that even if an officer is tasked with completing disciplinary investigations, there are still aspects of disciplinary investigations which are unknown.

As a member of the FOP Legal Defense Plan, an officer is entitled to representation at no cost to the officer.  We do not judge whether or not an officer deserves legal defense.  We do not judge the accused officer.  If you are a member of the FOP Legal Defense Plan and you become the accused officer or a witness officer in an internal disciplinary investigation, your legal representation is guaranteed.  We are there to protect your rights.  Calling your FOP attorney can also make you eligible for the FOP’s salary reimbursement option when you don’t have a chance on appeal.  Call, text, or email today.

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#NOPD Disciplinary Procedures and Your #FOP Legal Defense

Recently, I had my first run in with the new NOPD disciplinary policies.  I want to repeat the advice I commonly give to FOP members:  CALL YOUR FOP ATTORNEY FOR ANY DISCIPLINARY INVESTIGATION WHETHER A WITNESS OR ACCUSED.

On May 15, 2016, several new “chapters” were placed in effect by NOPD.  The new policies caused changes to both the disciplinary procedure and the penalty matrix.  See my prior article about the changes here.

The new penalty matrix assigns a letter, A-G, to each of the rules —  A offenses are the least severe and G offenses are the most severe.  Professionalism (R.3P.1) is an A offense – Letter of Reprimand territory.  Honesty and Truthfhlness (R2.P.3) is a G offense – mandatory dismissal.

There are a couple of confusing points to make note of right off the bat.

Rule 4, Paragraph 2, Instructions from an Authoritative Source, was always the go-to rule for any violation of an NOPD policy.   Many people were unaware that Rule 4, Paragraph 4(c)(6) is also Instructions from an Authoritative Source.  One had a penalty range of Letter of Reprimand to 3-day suspension and one had a penalty range of Letter of Reprimand to 5-day suspension.  To make things as confusing as possible, several things have happened with Instructions from an Authoritative Source.

First, in the previous iteration of the penalty matrix, R.4P.4(b) was Supervisory Responsibility and R.4P.4(c) was Enumerated Offenses.  For some unknown reason, the new policy switched paragraphs b and c.  So, now R.4P.4(b) is Enumerated Offenses and R.4P.4(c) is Supervisory Responsibility.

Further, R.4P.2, Instructions from an Authoritative Source is now a “C” offense on the penalty matrix (2-10 days).  R.4P.4(b)(6) Instructions from an Authoritative Source is now a “B” offense (Letter of Reprimand-2 days).  The thought process is that the R.4P.2 Instructions is more akin to intentional insubordination as opposed to R.4P.4(b)(6) Instructions which is a negligent or unintentional violation of a rule or policy.  Of course, as mentioned above, it is going to take some time to settle into the new interpretation of these rules.

Confusing?  That is why no officer should be without the representation provided by their FOP attorney.  Pick up the phone and call, no matter how minor the case appears to be.

Important Changes to NOPD Disciplinary Policies

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From time to time, I have written to say that it is important to take advantage of the FOP Legal Defense Plan when you find yourself accused in a formal disciplinary investigation.  It is important for a number of reasons:

  1. 90% of the NOPD are FOP members and, therefore, 90% of NOPD officers are paying for the FOP Legal Defense Plan.
  2. As an attorney who represents police officers every day, I can tell you that it is really beneficial to be involved in a disciplinary case from the beginning, particularly if the case will end up with a disciplinary hearing or Civil Service appeal.
  3. There is no downside to using the FOP Legal Defense Plan.  Most investigators expect officers to show up with their FOP attorney. It does not make you look guilty.
  4. There are procedural issues involved that most officers simply aren’t familiar with.
  5. There are significant changes to the NOPD disciplinary procedures going into effect on May 15, 2016.

I’m sure I could go on.  I still hear a lot of people saying that they don’t need representation because it is a stupid complaint.  While that may be true, it is better to be safe than sorry.  I still represent 80-90 different officers every month on average.  That being said, I know there are a lot of officers going it alone.  It doesn’t need to be that way.  It is nice to have someone you know is on your side no matter what.

I believe that these new policies will result in more sustained violations and more civil service appeals.  As such it will be more important than ever to contact your FOP Legal Defense Plan attorney as soon as you become aware of a formal disciplinary investigation or any allegation of wrongdoing.  It is important to note that we were presented with a version of these regulations some time back which were much, much worse.  The NOPD was able to use the written comments provided by myself and FOP Policy Chairman, Jake Lundy, to make some significant changes to these policies.  I believe the NOPD is very fortunate the original versions of these regulations were changed based on our suggestions.

There are new policies going into effect on May 15, 2016 (Ch. 26.2, 26.2.1, 52.1, 52.1.1 and 52.1.2).  There will no longer be DI-1’s or DI-2’s.  Some of the big changes to the disciplinary procedures include:

  1. Following a sustained infraction, there will be two hearings.  The first will be the Pre-Disposition Conference.  The second will be the pre-Disciplinary Hearing.  The pre-Disposition Conference will be conducted by the Bureau that conducted the investigation.  For example, if PIB conducts the investigation, then PIB will conduct the pre-dispo conference.  If a district supervisor conducts the investigation, then the pre-dispo conference will be conducted by that Bureau.  The only thing at issue at the pre-dispo conference will be whether the investigator’s recommended disposition will be accepted or not.  It is at that conference, that you might have a shot of getting a sustained disposition changed to not sustained, unfounded, or exonerated.  However, you will not be allowed to present any new evidence unless that evidence was not available during the actual investigation or it is newly discovered.  The second hearing, the pre-Disciplinary Hearing, will be conducted by someone in your chain of command.  This will be similar to what we have now as commanders hearings or bureau chief hearings.  The big difference relative to what we have now is that the only thing at issue in this hearing will be the recommended penalty.
  2. The penalty schedule has also changed significantly.  The rules look the same (for the most part), but each rule has a letter attached to it. Each letter, A-G, is a different penalty level.  For example, Rule 3, Professional Conduct, Paragraph 1, Professionalism, is an A violation.  When you look at A, you see that there are three penalties listed: O, R, 1.  The middle is the presumptive penalty.  That is to say that absent any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, that is the penalty that will be assessed.  In this case it is a Letter of Reprimand.  If there are mitigating circumstances, you could receive an oral reprimand.  If there are aggravating circumstances, you could received up to a 1-days suspension.
  3. The rules regarding multiple offenses has also changed.  For violations less than a Level D offense, the rules are largely the same as they are now.  If you are sustained for violating the same rule within a 36 month period, then it will be a second or third offense, as the case may be.  However, if you are sustained for a D – G offense, then ANY sustained violation within 36 months of the sustained D – G offense.
  4. It will be very important that investigators properly classify alleged offenses.  For example, Rule 4, Paragraph 2, Instructions from an Authoritative Source, is currently one of the most frequently sustained violations.  However, under the revised penalty schedule, Rule 4, Paragraph 2 is broken into two sections.  Both are more serious that their predecessor.  Rule 4, Paragraph 2 will be either for a deliberate disregard of department rules and regulations (a Level C offense) or disregard of a direct order (a Level D offense).  The appropriate charge for an accidental violation of an order or procedure from the operations manual will be Rule 4, Paragraph 4(b) 6 (a Level B offense).
  5. The rules on BWC usage are now broken down into two categories, both of which fall under Rule 4, Paragraph 11.  The first would be for an inadvertent BWC violation and is a Level A violation.  The second is for intentional misuse or non-use of the BWC and is a Level F violation.  The majority of the BWC violations should be of the first variety.
  6. Everyone should also be aware of the changes to Chapters 52.1.1, 52.1.2, 52.2, and 35.1.7.  Again, all of these are scheduled to go into effect on 5/15/2016.

Tax or No Tax, The Goals Must Remain the Same

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Cast against the background of the tragic murder of former Saints defensive end Will Smith, discussions of tax measures seem much less important.  There is a fundamental culture of violence that exists in this city which will not go away until the people who find themselves smack in the middle of it decide they will simply not tolerate it any longer.  Until that happens, there will be no meaningful progress in the fight against violent crime in New Orleans.  So, I am going to discuss the failure of the April 9, 2016 tax proposal, but I will be doing so while thinking about Will Smith and all of the other victims of needless violence in the city I choose to call home.

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