by Dale Chappell
Dozens of New Orleans police officers who have been fired for misconduct were able to keep their badges and guns simply by switching to another police department, according to police personnel files and court documents. The ease with which the fired New Orleans officers found work at other police departments underscores the challenge law enforcement faces nationwide to rid itself of problem cops.
Over the past decade, New Orleans has forced out or fired at least 248 officers. Dozens of those cut loose were hired by another police department, and half were fired yet again.
A 2011 Department of Justice civil rights investigation found that New Orleans officers “routinely” used unnecessary force and conducted unlawful arrests, and that the public had lost faith in the department. City leaders in response instituted reforms, leading to an exodus of officers.
One ousted New Orleans officer, Carey Dykes, was sued three times in two years—once when witnesses said he “brutally beat” a man, another when a pregnant woman said he “slammed” her face into the ground, and another for false arrest. The city settled the lawsuits, and Dykes was allowed to keep his job. He would be suspended three more times, but inexplicably kept his job.
In 2010, a woman told internal affairs investigators that Dykes was “picking up working girls” while on-duty, including her. She said Dykes had rented a motel room, and the two had unprotected sex. Motel records showed Dykes had rented the room for $45, checking in with his driver’s license in the middle of his shift. Investigators decided to keep an eye on Dykes.
One night, as investigators sat watching his patrol car parked at a motel, a 911 call came in about two men armed with assault rifles who had fled from a wrecked car. A dispatcher called Dykes on the radio but got no answer. Ten minutes later, the neighborhood erupted in gunfire, prompting more 911 calls. Dykes’ patrol car never moved. Concerned, investigators approached Dykes’ car and found him sound asleep inside. They took pictures. Thirty minutes later, Dykes drove off and wrote in his report that he had responded to the shooting.
In all, investigators found Dykes had violated department rules 17 times. He was finally fired three months later and then promptly hired by Delgado Community College, the state’s largest community college, as a campus police officer. Tony Cook, Delgado’s spokesman, could not explain why the school hired Dykes despite his long and troubled record, or whether the college had even checked his employment record. Dykes was also hired by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and remains employed at both jobs.
Delgado has hired more rejected officers from New Orleans than any other department. “You can’t keep punishing people for the same mistake,” said Delgato police chief Ronald T. Doucette Sr. But when confronted about one of his hires, fired from New Orleans after charges that he failed to seek medical help for his badly burned child, and later fired from Delgado because of an incident on campus, he conceded, “I made mistakes” in hiring him.
Eddie Compass III, another former New Orleans police officer who replaced Doucette this past year, said that Delgado will no longer hire officers who have been forced out of other departments. “They never should have been hired,” he said.
“Because of the market demand for experienced officers, many organizations are willing to overlook blemishes in a police record in order to keep their numbers up,” noted Peter Scharf, a criminologist and professor at Louisiana State University. Former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said, “by the time you reach the point of terminating someone, that’s usually something that speaks to the officer’s ethics or ability to do their job.” Other departments, though, know they can get a bargain because the ousted officers will usually accept lower salaries. Unfortunately, that discount often comes at the cost of public safety.
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