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My Thoughts on the NOPD Consent Decree

Posted on by Townsend Myers

“Yes, you have our permission to fix it.”

That is what New Orleans is telling the federal government with the announcement of a consent decree, an acceptance of a sweeping reform of the New Orleans Police Department with oversight from the federal government.

Background is provided by Brendan McCarthy in this article in the Times-Picayune. To summarize, after his election, Mayor Mitch Landrieu commissioned a report into the NOPD which “condemned the NOPD on virtually every aspect of police work.” This caught the attention of  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Together with the mayor and Superintendent Serpas the Attorney General hammered out “landmark change in the department’s policies, philosophies and practices and seeks to make the police force more transparent, its officers and leaders more accountable.”

As Landrieu said at the unveiling press conference, “The citizens of New Orleans deserve a police department that protects and serves and partners with the citizens to keep this community safe.” He challenged the city’s uniformed officers to make a choice – and in my opinion, he used forceful words:

“For those of you who have done the great things you have done in the past, please buy in. For those of you who don’t, please leave.”

The court-enforced action plan investigating NOPD practices — all 492 points of it — will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan for at least the next four years. The department can free themselves of this oversight if they do good for two years.  If not, then Judge Morgan can impose penalties and extend her oversight.

Reforms include extensive training for officers, new policies on information collection (remember those invasive field interview cards I blogged about last week?), new rules on how police investigate sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as how officers deal with LGBT people.

There will also be more transparency — something we ALL believe is needed. To date, the NOPD doesn’t have crime statistics posted on their website. This will be rectified. They also have to share their public policy manual.

The list of reforms is long, and addresses firearm policy, off-duty police details, the formation of a crisis team to help the mentally ill, blind photo lineups and so much more.

Given the events during and after Hurricane Katrina, and the slew of high-profile federal litigation that followed, the NOPD consent decree was seen by many as absolutely necessary. I don’t agree entirely with the utility of what essentially amounts to a federal takeover of the NOPD, but I do believe that reforms are badly needed. I am hopeful that with this consent decree, we could at last see some of the change we need.

Yes, it comes at a great cost. Our cost, completely paid by the city of New Orleans, is estimated to be $11 million a year. The federal government has offered support in the way of federal grants but nothing is guaranteed. (It’s easy for the feds to dictate policy when they don’t have to worry about how they are going to pay for it.) Still, in spite of the costs to implement these policies, the costs of not doing anything are far greater.



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