Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Desire Terrorist

The Road to Corruption: Part 1 -- 'The Big Sleazy'

Because of the nature of what they do -- enforcing the laws of civilized society -- police officers are held to a higher standard than the average citizen. They are expected to be above reproach as they discharge their duties and they are expected to live by the same rules they enforce. Unfortunately, in New Orleans in the latter years of the 20th century, these standards broke down and the trust in which the police department was held was being violated with impunity. The city that fondly calls itself "The Big Easy" was becoming known as "The Big Sleazy."

NOPD Badge
NOPD Badge

By the 1990s, the road to rampant police corruption in NOPD had become well-paved. Once a respected and respectable agency whose motto is "To Protect and Serve," NOPD became plagued by a multiplicity of internal problems that impeded the department's overall effectiveness. Morale was at an all-time low. Although the vast majority of the 1,500-1,600 New Orleans police officers were honest and dedicated, a relatively small percentage of crooked cops tarred the reputation of the entire department. Between 1992 and 1995 roughly 60 NOPD officers were charged in a wide variety of crimes, according to statistics quoted in the city's respected news publications.

On top of the corruption, NOPD also had a shameful record for police brutality. Numerous incidents were reported to the department's Internal Affairs Division and the Office of Municipal Investigations charging officers with roughing up victims, often without sufficient cause. Many of the cases reported to IAD were never followed up, according to anonymous police sources quoted in the Times-Picayune. Suspects in various crimes even died while in police custody.

In 1990, a fugitive black man named Adolph Archie shot and killed a New Orleans police officer. Captured after a long foot chase through the city's downtown streets, Archie was severely beaten up in one of the city's police stations, then refused medical treatment. He subsequently died and the city's black community was outraged. When "60 Minutes" aired its segment on NOPD police brutality, it had a vast store of raw material to work with.

The corruption within the department was systemic. It permeated nearly every phase of operations and encompassed officers at all levels -- from rookie patrolmen to high-ranking deputy superintendents. To begin with, New Orleans's police officers at that time were woefully underpaid. Starting salaries for patrolmen were only slightly above $15,000 a year at a time when the average American workingperson's salary was in the mid-30s. Even veteran officers were barely making $25,000-30,000 annually. Mere pittances for the occupational hazards they faced every time they went out on patrol.

Most New Orleans cops had to moonlight at second jobs known as "details" to make extra money and meet their escalating living expenses. At one point, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the NOPD force was moonlighting on these details. Usually these details involved providing security for special events, bars and nightclubs, visiting film crews and other similar arrangements with groups and individuals in the private sector. Sometimes they did these details in uniform; sometimes not. On numerous occasions, high-ranking officers worked details under the supervision of lower-ranking patrolmen.

With so many cops working private details, it didn't take long for the entrepreneurial spirit to manifest itself. Enterprising individuals within the department began "contracting" detail work for fellow officers and receiving a percentage of what the officers they hired were being paid. Small fiefdoms -- and even empires -- began evolving as these arrangements became more lucrative to those doing the contracting. They became businesses within the business of policing the city.

According to newspaper reports, some of these "detail brokers" were conducting their private side businesses on their shifts, using police radios and other communications devices provided to them by the city and its taxpayers. Arranging private security details became so profitable for some of these brokers that their second incomes were bringing in more money than their salaries. Some of them even left the department to head their own private security firms.

The department's brass had mixed views on the issue of private details. On the one hand, they didn't want to buck up against PANO, the powerful Police Association of New Orleans, which supported details. As long as police officers could make extra money on details, PANO wouldn't make too big an issue out of pushing for higher salaries; money the city's tight budget could ill afford to come up with, following the disastrous "oil bust" of the late 80s. On the other hand, working these details was taxing on the officers' stamina and overall effectiveness. Working an eight-hour detail after an eight-hour police shift was making many officers fatigued on the job and slower to respond to emergencies.

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