NOPD Signs Sweeping Federal Consent Decree!!!

This has been coming for a long time, and it was set in stone- nothing was going to prevent the eventual implementation of the federal consent decree.

On Tuesday, July 24, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with local officials announced the most far-reaching federal consent decree of its kind in the nation. A federal court judge must sign off on the lengthy document. It serves as a blueprint for change in the city’s long-suffering police department. It will last four years or more, and be overseen by a federal judge and a monitor. The 192 page document is very comprehensive containing 495 mandates and may take more than four years to complete.

US Attorney General Eric Holder

US Attorney General Eric Holder

NOPD will be forced to confront many deficiencies, most of which were covered in last year’s Justice Department NOPD report, a very strong condemnation of almost all aspects of the force.

NOPD isn’t the major city organization facing a consent decree, Marlin Gusman’s Orleans Parish Prison is next in line for such an ‘honor’. Serpas has tried to stop the consent decree from being implemented by instituting some NOPD reforms. Unfortunately, Serpas’ efforts were doomed to fail, since the federal government has thought very poorly of our local police force for some time. Gusman has also implemented some late reforms, and they seem to be genuinely needed. Again, there is no stopping the Feds, who continue to negotiate with our jailer. There is no doubt Gusman will be getting his own consent decree himself in the near future.

As for the NOPD decree, it is extremely wide ranging, taking on virtually all aspects of the NOPD program. Everything from how cops conduct traffic stops to the paid detail racket to creating a new oversight agency within City Hall. Big and small, the whole department is about to be overhauled.

NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas

NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas

Negotiations over the decree have been ongoing for a long time. City Attorney Richard Cortizas and his team have been working with the federal government, including members of the Justice Department and Jim Letten’s staff.

Decrees are very powerful tools of the federal government. The Justice Department was given the right to investigate the patterns and practices of law enforcement agencies with allegedly systemic problems. The1994 Violent Crime Control Act gave Justice this authority.

Around the country more than a dozen cities, including L.A. and Detroit among them, have been placed under federal consent decree. If you examine what occurred before and after the decrees, it’s obvious that these police departments have been overhauled from top to bottom.  Officers are forced to police in ways that don’t violate the rights of citizens, and they must document everything.

I’ve always heard that the feds absorb the hefty bill of a consent degree, but I’m now hearing that us locals will do the paying. Don’t understand that. Costs include new oversight, equipment and technology.  Some of the new bills will be borne by fees taken from a pool of money earned by police officers who work details. There is not doubt it will be unbelievably expensive. Mayor Landrieu has stated it will cost New Orleans 11 million dollars per year at first. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the government would help support the decree with federal grants and lots of advice, but the full bill is New Orleans’ responsibility.

The way to get a police force to behave teach them the proper way to act and then stay on them until the correct behavior is old habit. Once they learn the proper way to treat the citizens they are protecting, a police force starts healing itself.

When New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu came into office, he invited the Justice Department into New Orleans, though the Federal probe into NOPD was proceeding anyway.  Federal officials were pleased about the mayor’s invitation, as that would make working in NOLA easier. At this time, the Justice Department announced a major investigation into NOPD. The Feds studied police records, held public forums, rode along with squad cars on patrol, and attended many NOPD meetings. The mayor was critical of past administrations who stood by while NOPD fell apart.

NOLA Mayor Mitch Landrieu

NOLA Mayor Mitch Landrieu

When the report was released in March, 2011, it was it was very critical of NOPD. Our police force was being run straight into the ground, according to the report. JD portrayed NOPD as extremely dysfunctional, that the basic elements of effective policing had been absent for gone for years.

The report said NOPD didn’t care about widespread violations of law by its officers. For example, despite evidence to the contrary, the report found all officer-involved shootings were whitewashed. No officer ever committed a policy violation when their gun was fired.

One key part of the decree links officers performance evaluations to promotions. This strikes me as an essential part of any efficient and honest law enforcement agencies’ culture. Apparently, this is the first time in any city under federal decree this has been insisted on.

This federal program really gives me hope. Face it, NOPD hasn’t been a good police force for a long time. They have trampled on the rights of those they have sworn to protect. Nevertheless, a brighter day has dawned, and with hard work and perseverance, NOPD will turn into a fabulous force!!

~ by neworleansmusicman on July 24, 2012.

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