By Aubry Killion | WDSU | March 14, 2023
Major questions are being raised toward the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Records obtained by WDSU investigates show $19,149 in taxpayer money was spent on housing OPSO employees at expensive downtown hotels during Carnival 2023.
Rooms were booked at the Omni, Marriott, and Sheraton.
OPSO said rooms were booked for 13 OPSO employees for 94 hotel nights. The average cost for a room was $203 a night.
A cooperative endeavor agreement says the city would pay for lodging expenses for officers and deputies from outside law enforcement agencies who assist OPSO in its detail support of NOPD and have to travel more than 35 miles to work the Mardi Gras detail.
“The fact the CEA says the city will not pay for lodging for anybody unless they are more than 35 miles outside the city. Why does that make the sheriff’s office an outlier here? So now they are going to have to explain why they did it, who was there, what the need was, why these certain hotels were used; all of those are fair public questions for the sheriff’s office to have to answer,” councilman Joe Giarrusso said.
The agreement was supposed to address an officer shortage along parade routes.
Rafael Goyeneche, the head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a local watchdog law enforcement agency, also has questions.
“Some of the senior-level officials and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office got the additional perk of staying in hotel rooms funded with public dollars which in my opinion is an inappropriate use of public funds,” Goyeneche said. “I think it’s a violation of the state constitution.”
OPSO issued WDSU the following statement:
“The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office was initially approached by Mardi Gras Krewes on January 17 requesting support with restoring traditional parade routes. Six days later, on January 23, OPSO signed a CEA with the City of New Orleans to formalize the mutual obligations and OPSO’s role in the agreement. Just 17 days later, on February 10, the first parade assignment happened.
By then, OPSO had secured 18 signed agreements with partner agencies that provided 218 deputies/officers, and we deployed up to 247 of our own deputies throughout the nine parade days of Carnival Season. Hotel rooms were booked for members of OPSO’s Mardi Gras Command and Supervisory Team, who were instrumental in coordinating logistics for the agency’s first-of-its-kind involvement in providing parade security. During the course of our planning, OPSO determined it was imperative to have our team located near the parade routes to ensure safety and efficiency.
Outside of their regular duties, these staff members were tasked with supervising operations on the ground, which included ordering and issuing equipment, cataloging and programming the equipment, placing food orders, and deploying meals. Managing this also meant our command center had to be open and ready before the first deputy arrived prior to the first parade and after the last person left, at least four hours after the parades were completed.
Command and supervisory staff were working nights as late as 1-2 a.m. and had to be up early to return to their duties as early as 4:00 am on Mardi Gras Day. This was part of strategic decisions made to best serve the needs of the city and successfully fulfill the terms of the cooperative endeavor.”