End of Danziger trial refocuses public perception of NOPD

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wwltv.com

Posted on August 6, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Updated Saturday, Aug 6 at 6:24 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

New Orleans - Over the course of seven weeks, the Danziger Trial laid bare the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina and the problems the New Orleans Police Department had in handling it.

"It just reinforced the bad reputation that the NOPD has with a lot of regular people," said Marshall Woodworth of New Orleans.

The public perception of the department may be tough to overcome, despite multiple guilty verdicts for the five officers who were on trial.

"The whole department as a whole probably has to take two steps back to start going forward," said Kevin Banks, a New Orleans barber. "And if this is the way it has to go, then the more the merrier. You've got to root out the problem."

Problems that by all accounts are extensive in the beleaguered department. Michael Cowan is the chairman of the New Orleans Crime Coalition, a criminal justice watchdog group in the city.

"I think this was like an infected wound on our city's body. And it had to be dealt with," Cowan said. "I think it is definitely going to take time for the level of trust that we need in our police department to be put there. This trial will certainly not change that automatically."

Even with the trial's conclusion, though, much work remains.

"I think it's critical in moving forward, in building an NOPD that is a world-class department," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

A consent decree, now on the table between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, would bring in federal oversight of the NOPD. However, sources tell Eyewitness News that may not happen until one more defendant involved in the Danziger case gets his day in court. In September, retired NOPD Officer Gerard Dugue is scheduled to go on trial for allegedly helping to cover-up the Danziger shooting.

"So, can we really have closure when there's one defendant left? I don't know the answer to that, but certainly a lot of folks in this community want this whole thing to be over with," said WWL-TV Danziger Trial Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor Donald "Chick" Foret.

The New Orleans Crime Coalition said public perception of the department could improve, with a newly-revamped Public Integrity Bureau and the additional oversight provided by the Independent Police Monitor.

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