NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Sheriff Susan Hutson spend much of Friday (Nov. 11) trying to persuade often skeptical city council members to dedicate millions of additional dollars to the OPSO budget. Most of the money would be used for pay raises for deputies and other employees.
Hutson says she has more than 360 vacant corrections positions. She wants to increase the base, starting pay for deputies and other department workers to $18/hr. Hutson says she would like to fill 100 of those vacancies next year and the higher pay would go a long way toward making that happen.
But there are other items that the sheriff would like the council to fund including $3 million for a new mobile command center to use in coordination with NOPD officers during large crowd events.
“The needs for the command center are now. You want safety for Mardi Gras and the holidays? We need it now,” Hutson said. “We can’t mobile book, and we can’t make them more efficient until we have the tools to do it. I encourage you to ride in that Winnebago. It’s not a law enforcement vehicle.”
Hutson also says that the jail that was new just 8 years ago is rife with problems. Inmates can defeat cell locks with the caps from stick deodorant containers. Also, there have been inmate deaths and a riot.
“There are so many parts of that that are unsafe in the jail, that have to be fixed. That’s a ticking time bomb,” Hutson said.
Council members had plenty of questions for the sheriff. Joseph Giarrusso wanted to know why the sheriff’s office insists it needs new computer equipment but insists on using a system that prevents the council and others from monitoring the OPSO’s spending.
“The City has to rely on your numbers rather than having an integrated system where everybody talks together,” Giarrusso said.
Hutson said that a separate system is needed for the department’s independence.
Council President Helena Moreno asked about a vague item.
“And then there’s the piece that just says ‘other.’ Three million dollars for stuff that’s not even itemized,” Moreno commented.
Hutson said that the department also needs money for unforeseen issues like an incident in October.
“We had a fluke incident where somebody was shot and drove through our gate. We now have to buy a new gate. They don’t cost pennies. They are hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hutson said.
The sheriff’s office also told council members that while the NOPD’s budget has increased by $45 million over the past five years, the OPSO budget has remained almost flat. Council members pointed out that the sheriff currently is running a small surplus in her 2022 budget.