New Orleans Sheriff Ends Oversight of Electronic Monitoring Program
The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office’s (OPSO) administration of New Orleans’ Electronic Monitoring Program (EMP) was an almost “total failure,” according to the city’s Inspector General, Ed Quatrevaux, who found deficiencies in the program compromised public safety and wasted money.
OPSO Sheriff Marlin Gusman took control of the EMP in 2010 despite having submitted a higher bid during a competitive bidding process. Prior to OPSO’s administration of the program, from 2007 to 2009 defendants subject to electronic monitoring were overseen by a private contractor, Total Sentencing Alternatives Program (T-SAP). T-SAP lost its contract following criticism that it failed to timely respond to violations.
OPSO’s management of the monitoring program came under scrutiny in September 2014 following the murder of Richard “Chris” Yeager, a Domino’s Pizza driver. Authorities put two teens with ankle monitors at the scene; one had missed curfew the night before by 90 minutes, and during that time committed a carjacking. A deputy never followed up on the curfew violation.
The Inspector General’s Office examined the EMP and issued its report in two parts. The first determined that “neither the City nor OPSD implemented effective financial controls or ensured the program’s fiscal accountability.” Specifically, the report found that OPSO had overcharged the city and the mayor’s office did not catch the errors.
The Inspector General’s second report analyzed 359 files for 281 juvenile and adult participants in EMP from April 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012, and made six specific findings.
Investigators found that 79% of the files were incomplete or inaccurate; they frequently lacked one or more documents. Court orders were missing in 13% of the files, while violation reports were absent 75% of the time. Few of the files contained completed data sheets or end-of-service dates. The files lacked signatures of officers (44%) and defendants (11%). Moreover, 26% “had curfew restrictions missing or different from the restrictions listed in the court order.”
In 84% of the 37 files that included “stay away orders,” officers failed to record the order as a “territorial restriction” in the EMP agreement.
OPSO contested that finding and that there were 37 defendants with such orders. “Stay-away orders are taken very seriously and are acted upon immediately,” wrote OPSO Captain William Devlin. Quatrevaux’s office responded with a list of the 37 defendants and corresponding court orders.
The sheriff’s office also failed to have protocols for responding to alerts that were detailed enough for officers to take action. Officers who were interviewed said “there was no standard for determining when to respond, and each had his or her own threshold for deciding when to respond to the defendant’s last known location.”
When an inclusion zone alert remained active for longer than 30 minutes, there was no way for evaluators to determine what, if any, action officers had taken in response. Finally, the Inspector General found there were no objectives or performance measures for the monitoring program.
“OPSO’s operation was almost a total failure,” said Quatrevaux. “Citizens thought electronic monitoring was being conducted, but it really just wasted the people’s money.”
In response to the Inspector General’s report, Sheriff Gusman claimed the EMP had been “a highly successful endeavor” and said the report “smack[ed] of political grandstanding.” He argued the report covered a two-year period that ended just before the National Institute of Justice reviewed the program and made recommendations for improvements that were subsequently implemented.
Regardless, Gusman announced that OPSO would end its management of the EMP in January 2015, then later extended its oversight until quitting the monitoring program in 2016, citing a lack of funding. At that time no contractor was available to continue the program.
“It is an important alternative to incarceration, which keeps people connected to their families and jobs,” said City Councilman Jason Williams. “Healthy, financially stable families are essential to the health and well-being of the City as a whole.”
In early 2016, New Orleans officials issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a private contractor to operate the monitoring program. Two potential vendors responded but neither met the city’s requirements.
Following the disappointing results from the RFP, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office announced plans in May 2016 for the program to be retooled to monitor only juvenile offenders under a contract with a company called Sentinel. Violations would be reported by Sentinel and enforced by the New Orleans Police Department.
The Sentinel contract was not without controversy, however. In the case of the September 2014 Yeager murder – which sparked initial concerns about OPSO’s management of the monitoring program – the two young men who committed that crime were each subject to electronic monitoring, though through different agencies. One, Rendell Brown, was the responsibility of OPSO. The other, Shane Hughes, was wearing a Sentinel monitoring device, per the company’s contract with the Louisiana Department of Corrections Office of Juvenile Justice. Brown and Hughes, both now 18, were indicted for fatally shooting Yeager and are being prosecuted as adults on first-degree murder charges.
Sources: “Evaluation of the Electronic Monitoring Program Part 2: Implementation and Supervision,” City of New Orleans Office of Inspector General (Dec. 3, 2014); www.nola.com; Times-Picayune; www.thelensnola.org; www.wwltv.com