Zurik: Mayor Cantrell’s security detail sometimes outnumbered those policing an entire NOPD district
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office says all residents deserve to feel safe in their community. However, records show that on some days in 2022, Cantrell had more officers assigned to protect her than were on patrol for a 12-hour stretch in the NOPD’s Sixth District, which includes Central City, the Irish Channel and the Garden District.
The revelation comes after a lengthy statement from Gregory Joseph -- Cantrell’s Director of Communications -- regarding Cantrell’s four-person executive protection detail.
Joseph issued the statement following a Fox 8 investigation that revealed Cantrell sometimes has all four officers providing her protection at the same time. Fox 8 found that while Cantrell spent hours in the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment, was out of town, or walked alone in the French Quarter at night, several members of her security team clocked long hours.
Her executive protection team consists of three NOPD officers and an Orleans Parish deputy sheriff. Fox 8 previously asked the NOPD if the detailed officers had any other duties. The NOPD responded that the officers are assigned to Cantrell full-time, and don’t perform any other duties for the police department. A spokesperson told Fox 8 they are always assigned to the mayor’s security detail.
Our investigation raised questions about the allocation of police resources on several days. That included Aug. 22, 2022, when Mayor Cantrell spent the day in Washington D.C., for a meeting with the Department of Justice. One officer accompanied her on the trip, but two additional members of her team also clocked time that day.
Officer Robert Monlyn’s timesheet shows he worked from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Deputy Charles Ellis put on his timesheet that he worked 10 a.m.-10 p.m. New Orleans taxpayers paid the officers for a combined 24 hours of work, while the person they were assigned to protect was nearly 1,100 miles away.
Joseph issued a statement last Friday night that says, in part, “Those who purport themselves to be in law enforcement but who rather score cheap and meaningless political points at the expense of the safety and well-being of the people of the City of New Orleans should exercise their right to remain silent.”
Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins calls the statement surprising, and added, “What’s silly about it is that a director of communications -- who should understand the First Amendment and the fact that everybody has the right to speak their mind -- would state that people should exercise their right to remain silent. I mean, he should know … that any public official is fair game for analysis. So, surprising statement for him, that he doesn’t understand the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Joseph’s statement went on to say, “It is deplorable and simply disgusting that in the day and age of heightened and realized political violence, that so-called public safety leadership would place the lives of executive protection, the mayor, her family and the people of the City of New Orleans at risk. By fabricating lies and half-truths, they expose the fact that they know next to nothing about New Orleans Police Department procedures or the roles and functions of executive protection.”
Collins says it’s unclear to whom Joseph was referring when he addressed “so-called public safety leadership.”
“This is just, basically, it’s an attack statement,” Collins said. “It doesn’t really include any substantive information to make a case that the story was incorrect. It doesn’t dispute any of the facts in the story.”
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Regarding Cantrell’s protection team, Joseph’s statement said, “The duties assigned to the executive protection team are at the discretion of the mayor, and the mayor and the executive protection team are not subject to provide reasoning on changes to itinerary, hours of operation or safety needs. Officers within the executive protection team are subject to the same operating guidelines outlined by the NOPD, and all operations of the NOPD are at the discretion of the superintendent. Ultimately, executive protection is responsible for protecting the mayor from all threats to her safety and well-being, regardless of where those threats may exist. This is a duty and responsibility that every member of the mayor’s executive protection team performs admirably.”
Collins says Mayor Cantrell’s office has repeatedly stressed her safety. However, he says some of the mayor’s actions seem to contradict that messaging.
“If the mayor needs to feel safe, why is there video of the mayor walking by herself in the French Quarter with no security at strange hours of the night? I mean, that’s a question that (Joseph) should answer, and the mayor should answer. If it’s really a security issue … the mayor should never be walking by herself at night in the French Quarter, period,” Collins said.
NOPD roll call sheets also raise questions about the allocation of resources. The department is understaffed and New Orleans was named the murder capital of the U.S. in 2022.
On Sunday, July 17, 2022, Cantrell spent the day traveling back to New Orleans from a trip to France. One officer accompanied her on the trip, but two others clocked hours on their timesheets. That day, at 1 p.m., all three officers were on the clock. However, at that exact time, records from the NOPD’s Sixth District show just two officers were on patrol for the entire district.
The same thing happened two days earlier, on July 15, 2022. Cantrell was in France, and three protection officers again clocked time, though only one was overseas with the mayor. That day again, only two patrol officers were policing the Sixth District.
Collins says it doesn’t make sense to have three officers protecting one person, while only two officers are charged with protecting the citizens and visitors of an entire section of the city.
“If that is in fact the case, then that’s problematic,” Collins said, “I think the average citizen, the average voter, the average taxpayer looking at that would say, ‘This is not a rational or efficient use of our resources.’”
Joseph concluded his statement by writing, “No one, whether a public official or otherwise, deserves to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in their home, their community or doing their job.”
Collins believes the statement shows the administration doesn’t grasp the feelings of many residents, nor their concerns about crime and the NOPD’s manpower shortage.
“I think it just shows the disconnect,” Collins said. “It just shows a disconnect between the feelings of the people in City Hall, and the average citizens on the street.
“If there’s anybody who feels unsafe right now, it’s the citizens of the city of New Orleans, with the crime rate that we have right now, and with the homicide rate, and us coming off a year where we were the murder capital of the U.S. I mean, that’s who should feel unsafe. I don’t think there’s any reason for the mayor of the city to feel unsafe.”
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