NOPD faces major reform with consent decree


Posted on July 24, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 11:22 AM

Paul Murphy and Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS - The road map for major reforms within the New Orleans Police Department has been finalized and announced with the release of a consent decree, calling for major changes within the embattled police department.

(See NOPD consent decree)

In recent years, the department has been rocked by high profile post-Katrina police shootings, a controversial off duty detail system and a series of civil rights lawsuits.

The announcement to the consent decree was made at Gallier Hall with Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez on hand. Mayor Mitch Landrieu was present as well for the sweeping reforms.

Holder called the decree a critical step to reforming the NOPD. Landrieu and Superintendent Ronal Serpas supported the reforms.

"The United States, pursuant to an extensive investigation of the New Orleans Police Department, has determined that Defendant and its agents, through their acts or omissions, engage in a pattern or practice of excessive force, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and discriminatory policing," said the document.

Holder said that the problems with the NOPD began before the Landrieu administration, and applauded the current administration for starting to reform to the department before the completion of the consent decree. 

Sepras called the consent decree a "historic" day for the New Orleans Police Department.

"Further, the United States has found that these acts and omissions include, but are not limited to: failure to adequately train, supervise, investigate and discipline officers, and failure to establish consistent policies, procedures, and practice that appropriately guide, monitor, and manage the actions of NOPD officers and NOPD's response to those actions."

According to the document, the police department engaged in "A pattern or practice of unlawful conduct" which was "demonstrated by the convictions of numerous NOPD officers for criminal civil rights violations and other significant criminal misconduct committed, in many instances, while on duty," alluding to officer convictions in the Danziger Bridge and Henry Glover cases which sent NOPD officers to jail for unlawfully killing civilians and covering up the acts.

Department officers conducted illegal stops, searches and arrests of individuals without reasonable suspicion and probable cause, according to the document. Unreasonable use of force by police was also cited in the document, as well as discriminatory policing by NOPD officers.

The federal government, led by the U.S. Department of Justice, has been negotiating for more than a year with the city and the NOPD on a decree listing court mandated changes within the department.

"Our greatest hope is that the decree will give the people of NOLA one of the best police departments in the country," Susan Hutson, the independent police monitor, tweeted as news began to circulate of the consent decree.  "We have every confidence that is consent decree will respect our citizens' work to get our office in place and we plan to last.  OIPM is a conduit between the people of NOLA and NOPD and whatever our role in this consent decree, we will continue to do our jobs."

Among the changes expected to come with the consent decree is the NOPD policy regarding traffic stops, searches and arrests.

"The most blatant is the obvious use of excessive force by the police department. I briefly had an opportunity to look at what was in the consent decree and a lot of what they were talking about was the investigatory stops of individuals on the street that the police department is abusing that process," Gary Bizal, a civil rights attorney.

In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a standing room only crowd at Tulane University, "If we gather here in five years, you'll see a police department that is fundamentally different . The goal he said, "is a different department worthy of the people of New Orleans."

In April after five New Orleans Police Officers were sentenced in the deadly shooting of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said, "We are working together to develop and implement a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform that will reduce crime, insure respect for the constitution and restore public confidence in the New Orleans Police Department."

Among the changes, the decree outlines how police officers must conduct traffic stops, searches and arrests. It is also urges changes with how police examine officer use of force and how they interrogate people.

One of the stickiest issues during negotiations was how to handle off-duty details, described in an earlier Justice Department report as an "aorta of corruption." It appears that a compromise was reached on the issue, with a one-year phase-in period for large details and an agreement to allow smaller details -- such as schools and churches -- to be grandfathered in, allowing the cops currently working the details to remain in place.

The federal oversight will remain in place for at least four years overseen by a monitor and a federal court judge.

The New Orleans Police Department becomes one of the largest police agencies in the country to enter into a consent decree in recent years, following cities such as Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and city officials are expected to hold a news conference on Tuesday to announce specifics of the consent decree.

So far, there are no official comments from the feds or NOPD. 

Channel 4 and will carry the live announcement; it is expected to begin around 3:45 p.m. For the latest information on the consent decree check back with throughout the day and watch Eyewitness News at 5 and 6 p.m.