State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, filed a pair of bills Thursday (April 2) that would start talk of merging the struggling New Orleans police department with the embattled domain of Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman.Too many issues here to go through but the first question will probably have to do with finance.
Morrell also wants lawmakers to consider making the New Orleans police chief an elected position and establishing an oversight board to better coordinate all law enforcement agencies in the city.
Gusman is at perpetual odds with the city over his operating budget. His office is also facing expenses stemming from a federal consent decree to bring the jail "up to constitutional standards." To that end there is a proposal on the upcoming May ballot which will allow Gusman greater flexibility with regard to how he spends his capital millage. The ballot measure is identical to one that failed in November.
Of course, NOPD is dealing with its own consent decree. So the merger would consolidate the city's law enforcement consent decree debts. The department's supposed manpower problems along with the perception that crime is worse than normal as of late has led to some unusual bank-shot schemes to pay for state troopers, some sort of quasi-police force of "citizens", as well as "The Uber Of" privately funded brute squads owned by an eccentric millionaire.
And that just covers the French Quarter. There are also nearly 30 private (publicly funded but privately operated) security districts up and running throughout the city. Morrell's legislation proposes a single oversight board for this balkanized law enforcement apparatus. I'd like to think of the NOPD/Sheriff merger as a step toward reeling all of that back in a bit. But that would be much further down the road.
There's also the matter of the (dormant, for now) police and fire millage proposal the mayor is keeping in his back pocket. If the departments are merged, would that even be an avenue for funding the new entity? Or does a completely different arrangement need to be devised?
Most intriguing in all of this is the prospect of making the Sheriff/Police Chief an elected official. I can imagine ways in which this won't make the mayor too happy. But I can also see the whole plan as a threat to Gusman's little empire. So, I guess the main question I'd have with regard to all of this is, who is really out to get whom here?