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Home News News Fox 8 Money spent on NOPD's challenge coins raises questions

Money spent on NOPD's challenge coins raises questions

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New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas has a new plan to boost morale in the department, but how he went about paying for the superintendent's new challenge coins raised questions and now the chief is trying to clear up any confusion.

There's no question morale is an issue inside the NOPD, with the controversy over paid details, manpower issues and a scathing report issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Justice.

It's why Chief Serpas says he decided to do what he says has been done in every other department he's worked for; reward officers for a job well done with a shiny reward.

"I find they're very helpful in creating good morale," says Serpas. "People like having them, they laugh about them. One officer once told me he had so many coins, he could play a poker game. They're very good at building morale, and have been around for a long time and I like them."

In February, Chief Serpas ordered 2000 of the challenge coins.

Documents show the department paid $11,322 to a company called Symbol Arts. That payment was listed as an expenditure to the state drug asset forfeiture fund.

FOX 8 first asked the superintendent about the legality of the payment yesterday, and he assured us there wasn't a problem, saying, "The asset forfeiture fund specifically allows us to purchase rewards or awards, so we followed the rules to buy them."

Problem is state law says those funds must be used for drug law enforcement, not to reward an officer for doing a good deed.

Two hours after FOX 8 questioned the chief, the city's purchasing officer was instructed to cancel the purchase order for the coins and move it to the federal asset forfeiture funds instead, which according to the Department of Justice, is legal.

Serpas says, it was a simple accounting mistake.

"It got screwed up in the system and was scheduled to be paid through the federal asset forfeiture, so we went in and changed it. It was a snafu on our part, but I'm glad we got it fixed."

The chief is adamant, most of the drug asset forfeiture money, state and federal, is not being spent on morale-boosting coins, but rather tools to fight crime in New Orleans.

The superintendent's challenge coins just came in a few weeks ago and none have been handed out yet, but the chief says 2,000 coins should last years.

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