By Cassie Schirm | WDSU | April 27, 2023
NEW ORLEANS — A call for more supervision over those protecting the New Orleans mayor, the Office of Inspector General just released a report raising concerns over a lack of procedure in place for Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s executive detail.
“We determined that the executive protection team did not have policies in place to regulate or guide its operations,” said Inspector General Ed Michel.
Michel says he started looking into the mayor’s executive detail because it’s an important job and it’s costing taxpayers.
“This position eliminates the risk facing our mayor. And the mayor is critical to all city operations,” Michel said. “The mayor, no matter who the mayor is, has to be protected.”
Last year, nearly $415,000 in tax dollars were spent on three officers and a sheriff to be on the mayor’s executive detail.
In this report, the inspector general found a lack of protocols in place could have added to unnecessary overtime and extra pressure on NOPD.
“The lack of policies and procedures contributed to the ineffective use of NOPD’s already limited resources,” Michel said.
Michel found there were “no written policies, procedures or standards governing her executive protection” when it comes to protecting her or billing the city.
He also found the mayor’s executive team “has never prepared any threat assessments prior to mayors events and speaking engagements,” meaning the city could have been paying for more officers than needed.
“For instance, the current size of the detail is four, but if they were to conduct thorough threat assessments, both pre- and post-engagements that the mayor has, they may find the need for only two police officers assigned to the detail,” Michel said. “So it’s absolutely essential to have a plan in place, have a threat assessment, and to gauge the risk facing the mayor.”
The inspector general also looked into the training for the team.
“They had very little trainings and there were no documented examples of trainings to ensure their proficiency going forward,” Michel said.
He isn’t the only one questioning the mayor’s executive detail roles.
Public Integrity Bureau investigators investigating Officer Jefferey Vappie, the Mayors’ former security detail, were heard in leaked interview tapes questioning former and current details.
“PIB: “So travel would change from 12 to 16 hour day, correct?
PIB: “Is that written anywhere?”
PIB: “OK, how did you know that was automatically a 16-hour day during travel times?”
Vappie: “That was told me when I came on the team.”
PIB: “By who? By whom?”
Vappie: “That is what I was told to me by Louis and Rob.”
PIB: “Did a supervisor ever tell you this?”
Documents show the mayor’s executive team would even clock in full days while Cantrell was out of town hundreds of miles away.
PIB: “You guys still work 12 hours even if the mayor wasn’t here?
Former executive detail: “Yes, you’re at her leisure. She may call you and she may text you and say she needs something more.”
Both the bureau and inspector general also question what some of the officers were doing on the clock.
“So whatever you think an assistant might do sometimes more times than not, we would do that as well,” said former member Kristy Johnson Stokes.
She told the bureau she would run errands, pick up last-minute gifts and take the mayor’s daughter to and from appointments and classes.
“It’s a fine line between being an executive protection and being an assistant,” Stokes said. “I think the main thing for the team, especially the guys, is holding the purse. We need our hands. We’re not supposed to be holding your bag. You might need an assistant for that.”
“Many of the functions and duties of those security team members are more of a personal assistant,” said watchdog Rafael Goyeneche with Metropolitan Crime Commission.
“That’s not something that you need a commissioned police officer to do, particularly at a time that we’re experiencing a manpower crisis in the city of New Orleans,” Goyeneche said.
The mayor disagrees, stating, “It’s at my discretion and it’s necessary for me to do my job.”
After the tapes were leaked last month, the mayor was asked whether her executive team should be used to hold purses and run errands. WDSU asked her again just this week and the mayor doubled down.
“Yes, I will continue to utilize my executive protection detail just as every other mayor prior to me,” Cantrell said. “And it’s never gone under any scrutiny at all and it’s very concerning that me this is the issue.”
We made a public records request for the previous mayor’s detail costs and were told there are no records that exist.
“The cost of this security team are a luxury that the city can’t afford,” Goyenche said.
Now comparing the $415,000 New Orleans is paying for four security details to other cities.
Denver, which is nearly double the population, spends on average nearly $700,000 on seven officers to protect the mayor.
San Jose, with a million residents, spends on average $200,000 per year on one detail for the mayor.
The $415,000 spent in New Orleans doesn’t include council members with one executive detail and the city attorney’s detail. Goyeneche believes they should all have to share to help add more boots to the ground and save the city money.
“If the mayor or city council members need somebody to drive them to an event, then there’s a pool of officers,” Goyeneche said. “I think, more productive and more cost-effective and would produce greater benefits to public safety.”
Michel says right now, it is important to keep the mayor safe. That’s why he wrote a list of recommendations to NOPD.
1. While there is a need for NOPD to provide executive protection for the mayor of New Orleans, a thorough review of the manner in which the EPT functions needs to be conducted by an independent law enforcement agency in conjunction with the NOPD.
2. The review should address the effective size and management of the EPT.
3. Once the review is concluded, NOPD must subsequently establish policies that govern the behavior and performance of the EPT. The policies should cover supervisory oversight from a management and practical standpoint, optimum EPT size, assignments, and appropriate reporting of pre- and post-actions associated with the mayor’s events and speaking engagements. The policies should also include a prohibition against using EPT members to run personal errands.
4. NOPD should establish a clear chain of command for the EPT, including a team leader and the designation of someone who would be administratively responsible for the EPT.
5. Decisions regarding EPT activities, duties, and performance should be made by NOPD rather than the mayor. The need for executive protection should be based on threat assessments and professional decisions made by the Team Leader of the PT and coordinated with the office of the person being protected, in this instance, the mayor. The relationship currently in place between the EPT and the NOPD Intelligence Division with respect to threats against the mayor should be maintained and documented in the ET’s policies.
“This is going to help create the oversight and it’s also going to help create performance metrics to ensure the $415,000 expenditure is done properly,” Michel said. “It’s a lot of money.”
According to the OIG, NOPD has agreed to implement every one of the Office of Inspector General recommendations.