By Cassie Schirm | WDSU | January 19, 2024

NEW ORLEANS —The city of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has entered a new contract to help supplement security during Carnival Season.

The Cooperative Endeavour Agreement provides funding for extra security details during Carnival parades.

The council approved the CEA during its council meeting on Thursday morning.

The security will be handled by Sheriff Susan Hutson, who will add an additional 240 officers to the streets from 18 different statewide agencies.

The agreement is similar to the contract used during the 2023 Carnival Season.

“This is operation is outside of the normal scope of OPSO’s work, but for the second year in a row we have been called on to support the city and are proud to do so in an effort to ensure our community and visitors to the city have a fun and safe carnival season,” Sheriff Hutson said in an issued statement. “I want to extend a huge thank you to all of our law-enforcement partners who answered my and the city’s call for support, and we are excited to be the conduit to welcome more than 240 deputies and officers to support this Carnival season. We thank our City partners for ensuring that this operation can move forward.”

This year, Hutson’s office will deploy officers to the streets from the following agencies:

  • Abbeville City Marshal
  • Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Franklin Police Dept.
  • Jeanerette City Marshal
  • Jefferson Parish 5th Justice Constable
  • Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • LA Dept. Public Safety & Corrections
  • Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Monroe City Marshal
  • Natchitoches 1st Ward Marshal
  • Pineville City Marshal
  • St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Tangipahoa 8th Ward Constable
  • Tangipahoa Parish Sherriff’s Office
  • University of Holy Cross Police Dept.
  • University of New Orleans Police
  • Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Xavier University Louisiana Police

The pay structure for the officers is the same as last year, with an hourly rate of $50 per hour for each detail during the season and $75 for Mardi Gras Day.

Although the extra security details are meant to increase public safety during Carnival, one watchdog is questioning the finances behind the agreement.

A new report from the New Orleans Office of Inspector General’s Office claims that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office may have violated federal law in their overtime payments to deputies during the 2023 Carnival Season.

The report was issued Thursday morning after the OIG conducted an audit of overtime payments to those officers who conducted Mardi Gras details.

The OIG claims that the overtime wasn’t calculated correctly and was paid on the taxpayer’s dime.

The OIG said in his report that his office fears the same thing may happen again during the 2024 Carnival Season since the sheriff’s office plans to model overtime pay the same as last year.

The city of New Orleans and the sheriff’s office signed a contract to bring in more officers and deputies to help the New Orleans Police Department with Mardi Gras details.

It was agreed that deputies would get $50 an hour each day they worked a detail during Carnival Season.

On Mardi Gras Day, deputies received $75 an hour.

The OIG claims OPSO used those hourly pay rates in the contract to calculate the overtime pay rate for employees.

According to the OIG, that calculation process was against the law.

The President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, Rafael Goyeneche, said the findings are a big concern.

“He puts the brakes on the audit and issues this letter alerting the sheriff alerting the city of New Orleans that the mistakes were made last year that the sheriff improperly compensated her deputies above what is provided for in the law and he’s warning don’t allow it to happen again,” said Goyeneche.

This is not the first time the sheriff’s office has been questioned for its spending in connection with the CEA.

WDSU Investigates uncovered that more than $1.5 million was spent on extra security during the 2023 Mardi Gras Season.

Specifically, out-of-town law enforcement received more than $44,000 in per-diem and a little more than half a million dollars to cover routes.

OPSO deputies received more than $816,000 in pay, and reserve deputies received more than $142,000.

Some of the expenses that were questioned by the council included reimbursement for items outside of the scope of the CEA, as well as equipment costs.

The sheriff was also criticized for spending more than $19,000 on hotel rooms for OPSO staff during Carnival.

To combat any potential financial mistakes from being repeated this year, the city council is considering ordinances that would require financial statement and contracts be published online as well as prohibiting certain procurement activities.

The sheriff’s office sent WDSU this response to the latest IG letter.

“For several weeks, OPSO has cooperated fully with the OIG by answering questions and providing any documents requested. OPSO disagrees with the OIG’s statements that OPSO’s overtime calculation was not compliant with Federal law, which has been verified by our legal team. This fact has been communicated over the last several weeks with the OIG general counsel. For political purposes, the OIG, at every turn, has attempted to undermine the hard work of the OPSO staff who went above and beyond to support the city when called upon.

With a limited amount of time to plan, our staff went to work planning operations in support of Mardi Gras. We disagree with the OIG’s mischaracterization of our work and payments made to staff who supported the operation to keep residents and visitors safe.

As a contracted agency providing support to the City of New Orleans for parade security, OPSO assigned OPSO personnel to work the parade during their normal work hours as opposed to a voluntary off-duty assignment. OPSO believes legal authority demonstrates that the OIG’s contention that overtime was calculated improperly is erroneous.”

The officers will work their security details starting Feb. 2 through Mardi Gras.