Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office will lead team to police Carnival after facing criticism last year
The majority of the funding from the $2.35 million deal will go toward personnel costs for deputies from 18 different agencies
By Missy Wilkinson
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — Preparations are well underway to police Carnival again this year with a large boost from out-of-town deputies, marshals, constables and state corrections officers.
The New Orleans City Council on Thursday approved a $2.35 million deal with Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson’s office, which is spearheading the supplemental law enforcement for a second year after a hurried effort in 2023 landed Hutson and her office in controversy.
The bulk of the 2024 money will be dedicated to personnel costs, City Hall spokesperson John Lawson said. The policing boost will include 145 Orleans sheriff’s deputies and 240 deputies from 18 outside agencies, Hutson’s office said. Non-personnel costs, including meals, per diem and mileage reimbursements, will cost no more than $200,000, Lawson said.
It’s a reprisal of what in 2023 was a first-of-its-kind arrangement to help restore Mardi Gras season parades more or less back to their pre-pandemic routes amid a police staffing shortfall that remains. The New Orleans Police Department stood this week at 901 commissioned officers, the fewest since the 1940s.
City officials and parade-goers deemed the 2023 Carnival season an overall success, though Hutson’s office was stung by questions over misused hotel rooms and transparency.
Unlike the New Orleans Police Department, Hutson’s office booked a dozen rooms at a French Quarter hotel for deputies working the parades. New Orleans Office of Inspector General Ed Michel’s office found that the rooms went unused for a combined 53 nights, or roughly $11,000 in charges to taxpayers. He called the expenses “wasteful and unnecessary.”
Hutson defended the room charges last spring, saying that deputies needed to be positioned close to the routes. But in the wake of the controversy, she dismissed four top deputies, including her former chief financial officer, David Trautenberg, who said he had begun to investigate the hotel charges. He has since sued, alleging retaliation.
Michel’s criticism continued on Thursday, in a letter finding that Hutson overpaid her own deputies for their hours working Carnival duty last year. In a statement, Hutson defended the legitimacy of her office’s overtime calculations while describing Michel’s audit as politically motivated.
Council member Joseph Giarrusso said that matter was not a factor when the City Council weighed a new cooperative endeavor agreement with the sheriff’s office for this year’s Carnival security work. The council blessed the agreement on Thursday.
The deal builds upon the blueprint of its $1.7 million predecessor and appears to address some of the issues that arose in 2023. This year, for instance, the city will pick up the tab and handle the hotel bookings.
As was the case last year, officers must face a 35-mile commute to qualify for a room.
Deputies and marshals came from as far as Monroe and Abbeville to work the parade routes last year, though most hailed from much closer to New Orleans. Jefferson Parish led with 51 deputies provided for Carnival details. Tangipahoa, St. James and Washington parish sheriff’s offices also supplied several deputies, according to OPSO figures.
Pay remains largely the same as last year under the new agreement: from $50 an hour for outside deputies on regular parade days, to $75 on Mardi Gras. Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputies will receive a $32 bump in their base hourly pay to work the parade shifts this year. All of those personnel must be state-certified law enforcement to work the parades under the agreement.
“Details are still being finalized, but we estimate lodging will be provided to an average of 120 law enforcement officers per night at total cost of approximately $200,000,” Lawson said, adding that room rates would not exceed $184 per night.
The OPSO has also switched to an electronic scheduling system, and deputies won’t be allowed to go straight from a 12-hour jail shift to a parade security shift. Hutson’s office will also mandate at least a six-hour turnaround between shifts.
“It is extreme fatigue, so this year, we’re not allowing our staffing to work more than 16 hours in any given day,” said Major Silas Phipps , OPSO’s director of compliance and accountability.
The city has a contract with the RTA to transport officers to meet with their NOPD counterparts and arrive at the routes two hours before the parades roll, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Casey McGee said.
OPSO deputies will work closely with NOPD in guiding officers from other jurisdictions, with a reminder that “we’re here to facilitate a good time,” Phipps said, and mandating intervention if they see an inappropriate use of force.
Officers will increase staffing in areas along the parade routes that have been problematic over the years, such as the corridor of St. Charles Avenue from Jackson Avenue to Calliope Street , said Melvin Howard , OPSO’s chief of field operations, who spent 40 years with NOPD.
“I refer to that as the danger zone,” Howard said. " Jackson Avenue to Calliope has always been problematic over the years. We suspect that will continue.”
James Reiss, co-chair of the mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council, said he believes the city and OPSO will continue to refine the public safety framework during Carnival and beyond.
“If this model of redeploying police assets and sharing personnel for major events continues to be successful, then police departments across the country can use it, because everyone is shorthanded,” he said.
Joseph Cranney contributed to this story.
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