Zurik: Cantrell’s security team lacks written policies, chain of command, audit finds
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - According to a report released by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s executive protection team lacks a written policy for operations and does not have a proper chain of command. The report suggests that this has resulted in the inefficient use of valuable resources for the New Orleans Police Department.
Inspector General Ed Michel says that the NOPD spends nearly $415,000 annually on Cantrell’s executive protection team, and while the mayor’s safety is crucial to city operations, there needs to be better oversight of the office.
Michel sent a letter to Interim NOPD Superintendent Michelle Woodfork stating that his office discovered no policies in place to regulate and guide the executive protection team’s operations.
“This is a very large sum of money for the city to expend with very few policies in place to ensure efficient operations. The lack of policies and procedures in place contributed to the already limited use of NOPD resources,” Michel said.
The report follows a series of FOX 8 investigations that focused on the executive protection team. FOX 8 has reviewed more than a thousand hours of video from a public security camera outside a city-owned French Quarter apartment where Cantrell spent hours during the workday, as well as hundreds of pages of police payroll records and Cantrell’s schedule.
OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
The records indicated that the city pays NOPD officers to protect the mayor, even when they were nowhere near her.
That included dates like September 7, 2022, when all four members of Cantrell’s security team were on the clock. Video showed Cantrell walking alone in workout clothes, watering plants, and leaving the city-owned apartment by herself just after 11 p.m. Over the course of that day, the city paid the four officers assigned to protect Cantrell for a combined 48 hours of work.
Officers were also paid when Cantrell traveled out of town.
On August 22, 2022, Cantrell spent the day in Washington, D.C. for a meeting with the Department of Justice. Back in New Orleans, the city paid two additional officers, whose sole duties are to protect the mayor.
In leaked audio recordings from an internal NOPD investigation into former security team member Jeffrey Vappie, a current member of Cantrell’s security team, Robert Monlyn, described what he does when Cantrell is out of town. Another former member of the executive protection team, Kristy Johnson-Stokes, said team members frequently ran errands for Mayor Cantrell.
In response to the report, Cantrell stated that using protection for personal errands will not change.
“I need my executive protection detail. It is very important to my ability to do my job. And so, I see, especially in this capacity, as mayor of the city, especially even as a woman doing this job, and with a family, so yes. I will continue to utilize my executive protection detail just as every other mayor prior to me, and it’s never gone under any scrutiny at all, and it’s very concerning that me. This is the issue,” Cantrell said at her weekly press conference.
However, the inspector general says the NOPD must adopt a policy that stops using police for the mayor’s personal business.
“That is not allowed,” Michel said. “The executive protection team should not be conducting personal errands on behalf of the mayor.”
The inspector general’s letter highlighted several more key findings. Michel wrote that the executive protection team never prepared any threat assessments before events and speaking engagements. The city does not have anyone responsible for coordinating the day-to-day operations of the executive protection team. Additionally, the executive protection team allowed the mayor to enter the Upper Pontalba apartment without an escort, even mentioning a time the mayor spoke to a man sleeping in front of the entrance, approaching the mayor with a bottle in their possession, while the mayor’s executive protection was more than a block away.
The NOPD told the inspector general it plans to adopt policies and better oversight of the executive protection team, with four officers responsible for protecting the mayor when she is outside the office.
When it comes to the chain of command, leaked audio recordings showed that officers received their assignments from the mayor herself. Michel says that this is not a typical relationship between protectors and their protectees. He suggests that moving forward, operational decisions should be made by an NOPD team leader, not the mayor.
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