The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the city of New Orleans conducted an audit on the 2019 purchase of tires and rims on some of the police department's vehicles, coming to the conclusion that the purchase was unnecessary.
Investigators also determined that the tires purchased may have not been the safest option for officers.
Details on the Purchase in Question
The city used public funds to purchase specialized tires and rims, totaling $42,270, to replace the OEM tires and rims included on new police package vehicles assigned to New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) commanders.
The purchase was made by the Equipment Maintenance Division (EMD) using an existing State of Louisiana contract with NAPA Auto Parts for aftermarket auto parts.
According to the OIG, both EMD and NOPD were unable to provide supporting documentation for the request and approval of the use of public funds to purchase the tires and rims. The OIG also believes that the purchase did not appear to comport with the terms of the state contract.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans (MCC) submitted a complaint, alleging NOPD sent its new Chevrolet Tahoe Police Pursuit Vehicles (Tahoe PPVs) to EMD to replace the original high speed tires and black rims with "softer ride" tires, as well as “chrome/silver rims and wheel caps that were said to be more visually attractive than the black rims.”
According to the complaint, these Tahoe PPVs were assigned to NOPD ranking officers, who “allegedly wanted their vehicles to deliver a more comfortable ride.”
In July 2022, OIG investigators sent a request to NOPD for all correspondence, justifications, and authorizations documenting the need and approval for the purchase. NOPD management responded, saying the agency was not the custodian of the documentation since the purchase was made through EMD for NOPD.
In a subesquent interview, EMD management was also unable to provide documentation, saying the request for the tires and rims would have originated from NOPD.
EMD management acknowledged there should be documentation of the original purchase request, admitting both its department and NOPD should have maintained copies of it.
The Interim Assistant CAO of Operations, who manages EMD, confirmed that the purchase was also made in order to make the vehicles, "appear less like police vehicles." He also advised he was not aware of the existence of any documentation that indicated who originated the purchase request, as well as the subsequent approval for the purchase of the tires and rims.
What the OIG's Response Said
The OIG believes the purchase was a possible violation of city procurement policy, as well as Louisiana Public Bid Law, because it did not comply with the state contract that was used.
In a recent letter to the department, the OIG wrote in part,
"It is the opinion of the OIG that public funds should not have been used to replace the OEM tires and rims included with the Tahoe PPVs. The verbal justifications provided by the City that the tires offered a “smoother ride” and that the chrome rims distinguished the NOPD Commanders’ vehicles from regular patrol vehicles were purely cosmetic and a wasteful use of $42,270. Additionally, the aftermarket tires may not have complied with the mandated police vehicle specifications, which could have increased the risk of tire failure."
"Improper Use of State Contract"
The OIG determined that EMD periodically submitted requisitions for the purchase of aftermarket auto parts through a state contract with NAPA, justifying piggybacking on the state contract, “to allow for the prompt receipt of auto parts [from NAPA] and the quick payment of [NAPA] invoices.”
Because EMD made the purchase using the purchase order tied to the state contract, no requisition or purchase order was created specific to the purchase.
The OIG found that the purchase did not comply with the terms of the contract because tires and rims were not included in the list of applicable aftermarket auto parts. That means the purchase required documented approvals, but the city was unable to provide those.
Investigators also found that the city had an existing contract with a tire vendor. The contract stated the city needed to go through that vendor for all tires and tire-related services. Because of that, the OIG determined that EMD and NOPD should have had supporting documentation explaining why they went through NAPA instead of the tire vendor.
"Non-compliance with Mandated Police Vehicle Specifications"
The OIG found that the tires purchased by EMD may not have complied with the city's mandated police vehicle specifications as required in the terms of its existing fleet contract with the tire vendor. That's because they had different specifications from the OEM tires included with the Tahoe PPVs.
The tires on the Tahoe PPVs were equipped with Goodyear Eagle Enforcer All Weather tires, “designed specifically for police cars and [meeting] federal qualifications for high speed pursuit needs.”
Additionally, due to the specific requirements for performance durability and safety, General Motors recommends only OEM tires for replacement.
Auditors noted that the OEM Goodyear tires had the highest temperature rating of “A” and were approved for speeds up to 149 mph.
However, EMD and NOPD replaced those with Continental SureContact LX tires to provide a “more comfortable ride.” Those tires were not specifically designed for law enforcement vehicle specifications and had a temperature rating of “B” and were only approved for speeds up to 118 mph.
The letter with the OIG's findings was sent to the department to, "mitigate waste and promote efficiency concerning the city’s use of public funds" for the purchase.
Due to the city's "limited resources" for vehicle purchases, the OIG recommends EMD and NOPD comply with city policy and public bid law to avoid purchases that are "purely cosmetic."
What Happened to the OEM Tires?
EMD management told OIG investigators that they retained the original tires from the Tahoe PPVs to install them on other NOPD vehicles as needed. However, EMD did not maintain an inventory and had no record of which vehicles they were installed on.
Investigators recommended EMD maintain current and accurate inventories to ensure that vehicle parts are not lost to theft or misplacement.
Government Fleet reached out to EMD and NOPD for a response on the audit and will update this story if the agencies respond.