NEW ORLEANS-- It is a working relationship that is a work-in-progress for the two largest components of the city's criminal justice system: New Orleans Police and the District Attorney's office, who are charged with handling cases on a daily basis.
"It has to sort of be a team working together," said Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. "It almost has to be like the police department is the investigative unit of the DA's office."
Yet, Cannizzaro said that is not necessarily what is happening now. He points to a recent partnership between his office and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, as a model for what should be happening with the NOPD.
"The federal agencies do not consider a case to be closed or solved until the individuals responsible are convicted," Cannizzaro said. "That's a far different cry from what we're used to dealing with the police department."
However, New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas said local police are different from federal agents because they, as first responders, have to respond to every call they get.
"The burden to the local police is to create a probably cause arrest and a thorough investigation. The burden to the district attorney is to then morph that into a beyond reasonable doubt conviction," Chief Serpas said. "Local police, for many years, and it's very clear in our history, never really gave much attention to the second half of the relationship."
According to Chief Serpas, though, that may be changing. He said the department is making an effort to confer with the DA's office with weekly meetings on the most serious crimes.
"I want the officers to recognize that they've got to do a great police investigation, that they've got to be willing and able to meet with the District Attorney," Chief Serpas said. "So, when they call, I want them to be there, I want them to think differently-- I really do."
Chief Serpas said the department and the DA's office meet three days a week to review cases involving murders, sexual assaults and armed robberies. Cannizzaro said he hopes the Consent Decree-- which is still being negotiated between the City and the Department of Justice-- may help improve the way their offices work together.