Federal judge gives no indication she is close to terminating NOPD consent decree
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan signaled Wednesday (Aug. 17) she shares court-appointed monitors’ concerns that the New Orleans Police Department is backsliding rather than closing in on full compliance with a consent decree that has kept the force under federal oversight for more than 10 years.
The hearing was scheduled to give the judge and the public an update on two categories of the consent decree where the NOPD has not achieved compliance: Bias-free policing, and “Stop, Search and Arrest.”
But the federal monitoring team, headed by Jonathan Aronie, told Morgan the city’s embattled police department lately has shown signs that it is slipping out of compliance in other areas, including the paid details regulated by the Office of Secondary Employment and the department’s assistance program for officers battling mental health or substance abuse issues.
The judge ordered the monitors to re-audit those areas and scheduled another public hearing in September.
Morgan did not take up a 54-page brief filed Tuesday by Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office, part of the city’s motion asking the judge to terminate the consent decree. Morgan said it was inaccurate and unfair to blame the NOPD’s manpower woes on the consent decree.
The city’s court filing claimed the NOPD has “substantially and materially satisfied the letter and spirit of the decree through durable reforms,” and that any systemic violations of federal law in the way the police department operates “were remedied years ago.”
The court filing also accused the federal monitors of moving the goalposts on compliance with the decree’s 492 specific provisions, saying, “That subjectivity has added years to the process and exhausted the City’s resources.”
Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked for a US Department of Justice investigation of the city’s police force in May 2010, then signed the department into the federal consent decree on July 24, 2012. The expense of the decree after more than a decade is unclear, but officials previously said it cost the city more than $55 million over the first five years of federal oversight.
“The goal of durable constitutional policing by the NOPD has been achieved,” the city claimed in its court filing. “After a decade of federal control over the NOPD, it is necessary and appropriate for the decree to be terminated.”
At an Aug. 4 press conference at City Hall, Cantrell said recent conversations with police officers convinced her that the NOPD’s ability to recruit and retain cops would be greatly improved by getting out from under the consent decree and its paperwork and supervisory requirements that many in the department find onerous.
“They want recognition for a job well done, and not to be handcuffed when they know how to police,” Cantrell said.
The court filing bluntly added, “The city agreed to pay the monitor to evaluate NOPD’s compliance with the decree, not to facilitate an endless DOJ investigation of NOPD at the city’s expense. These resource-exhausting tasks and subjective approval requirements at each step compound to make compliance exceedingly subjective, impractically costly and greatly delayed.”
Release from the consent decree will never be immediate. Under terms of the agreement, the NOPD must demonstrate sustained compliance with all facets of the decree for a wind-down period of two years, starting whenever the judge decrees that initial compliance has been achieved.
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