Crime & Safety
May 11th, 2011
Never mind that it sometimes takes 8 minutes to get a response to your emergency when you call 911. Never mind that the homicide rate in the city is ballooning out of sight. What’s bothering Mayor Mitch Landrieu the most is that some city cops are trying to make a few extra bucks.
So he has overstepped his authority and meted out “justice” to a few of them. Just two days after saying he would wait for the results of an investigation by the city’s inspector general and the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau into the monitoring of the red-light traffic cameras, Landrieu suspended 8th District Cmdr. Edwin Hosli (left) without pay last week.
The only apparent transgression was that Hosli violated some arcane regulation prohibiting a city employee from forming a company to do business with the city. But in his rush to judgment, Landrieu (right) usurped Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ authority and issued the suspension while the chief was out of town, in Baton Rouge on city business. Maybe Landrieu felt he was doing him a favor by not forcing Serpas to suspend Hosli, his best friend.
Not all crimes are the same; the penalty for assault is far different than for murder. Forming a corporation—as Hosli did to monitor the red-light tickets—is certainly not heinous. Hosli hired police officers he knew—including Serpas’ son-in-law who is a narcotics detective in the 8th District—to review video of traffic infractions before tickets are issued.
There was no accusation of overcharging the city.
There was no accusation that the work wasn’t done right.
What there was is the animosity toward the red-light cameras—largely by scofflaws who are now being reigned in. They scorn the cameras as a money-making scheme by the city rather than a safety system that is highly effective. Their disdain is also directed at those enforcing the law.
What caught some eyes was that Hosli’s company was billing the camera contractor about $10K every 2 weeks, $20,000 for reviewing 20,000 infractions a month—a dollar a ticket doesn’t sound like a bad deal, considering New Orleans nets $18 million from those ignoring the law. And studies show red-light cameras are instrumental in reducing traffic fatalities.
Others say Hosli was trying to hide the company in his wife’s name. No he wasn’t. If you search the Secretary of State’s database of corporations under Edwin C. Hosli Jr., up pops Anytime Solutions Inc., listing him as vice-president and his wife, Michelle Austin, as president. (Hosli even lists his home address in Kenner, not such a good idea, but very transparent.) It’s all right there in front of you.
Such a set-up lets Hosli pick NOPD officers he trusts to do the work and delegates to Michelle the paperwork (signing them to W-4 forms, keeping track of their hours and writing them checks for their work, issuing W-2s or 1099s at the end of the year, and filing all the corporations federal and state tax forms). Hosli’s corporation doesn’t bill the city directly; he bills a sub-contractor of the company running the red-light camera system, which in turn bills the city.
There’s nothing clandestine in processing it all through a corporation—not like paying officers under the table, as you can bet is the way many details are handled. Paid details—off-duty officers working for private employers—have long been part of many cops’ pay in New Orleans and many other cities.
For instance, the Lower Quarter Crime Watch, when I was secretary 2002-2004, paid an off-duty officers $20 an hour to patrol 4 hours a night; an 8th District ranking officers was paid $100 a month to schedule the patrolmen. Other areas of the city have security details that hire off-duty cops to police their neighborhoods.
There’s no reason to believe there was anything illicit in the way these officers were hired or paid, but the feds in their report on the NOPD in March noted the potential for corruption and urged a reform of the NOPD’s system. Serpas has already forbidden cash payments to officers and is working on a complete overhaul that should be submitted to the mayor on Monday (5.15.11).
Even with new regulations, it’s not likely that Hosli violated the old ones—at least not intentionally. You have to ask: What harm was done? Hosli has served the NOPD honestly and loyally for over 30 years. To kick him to the curb now would be a disservice. His heart has been part of the NOPD since he was a boy of 12, when his father—Sgt. Edwin Hosli Sr.—was gunned down in the line of duty by a sniper in 1973. And if you haven’t read about Hosli’s exploits during Katrina as written in the New Yorker, you should.
Hosli was the only district commander appointed in 2002 by then-chief Eddie Compass who held on to the same command (the 2nd District in Uptown) until 2007, when he was appointed by chief Warren Riley to command the 8th District—the jewel of the NOPD—where he was only one of 3 commanders to head the same district until his suspension last week. That should tell you something about his steadfastness—and effectiveness. Crime in the French Quarter—the heart of the 8th—declined precipitously on his watch.
The only scandal in this case would be if Hosli’s good name isn’t returned and he isn’t returned to his command.
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As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome at NOcrimeline@gmail.com
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