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Federal monitor slams NOPD for poor response to domestic violence calls

2nd January 2018   ·   0 Comments

While Washington, DC-based consent-decree monitor Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton praised the NOPD for its handling of domestic-violence cases, the federal monitor also criticized the performance of the patrol officers who arrive first to the scene for routinely failing to give appropriate priority to domestic-related calls or properly documenting these incidents.

The federal monitor noted that while the NOPD’s manpower shortage is a factor in patrol officers’ poor handling of domestic-violence calls, some of the procedures it identifies as problematic are often intended to compensate for the undermanned department’s low numbers.

But while the federal monitor’s report says the NOPD is doing an “excellent job” of handling domestic-violence cases, it also says that not all of the department’s problems can be attributed to the manpower shortage. Some of the NOPD’s practices have unintentionally further endangered domestic-abuse victims as well as officers, eroded public trust in the police department and led a lost of important documentation.

The report, which focused on domestic-violence calls between mid-March and mid-September of this year, has led to more than 35 NOPD officers becoming the focus on disciplinary investigations, reported.

“While most NOPD patrol officers respond to DV (domestic violence) calls with compassion, empathy and skill, our targeted review revealed some officers respond ineffectively and, in some cases, inappropriately,” the federal monitor wrote.

NOPD officials have reportedly been reviewing the report and are in the process of taking steps to address the shortcomings highlighted by the federal monitor, an NOPD spokesman said last week.

“The NOPD takes domestic violence very seriously, and we continue to work with the monitoring team to find ways to further improve our response,” NOPD Communications Director Beau Tidwell said.

After a scathing report by the Office of Inspector General in 2016 that sharply criticized NOPD investigators in the Special Victims Section for failing to follow up on a significant number of complaints of sexual assault, the federal monitor’s report released Dec. 21, 2017 said it found a “remarkable turnaround” in the department’s handling of sexual assault and domestic violence cases.

But the report added that there is still “significant room for improvement” in NOPD patrol officers’ handling of domestic violence calls.

The federal monitor said it decided to look more closely at patrol officers’ performance by reviewing police reports and body camera footage and accompanying officers on ride-alongs to observe officers’ handling for these calls. There were too many inconsistencies that emerged from monitoring those areas, the report said.

After reviewing 124 domestic violence calls, the federal monitor concluded that 83 of the calls — roughly 66 percent of those calls — “revealed concerns or questions.”

The report said that some domestic-violence calls were reclassified by patrol officers to other types of calls like mental health calls or non-domestic calls without providing enough documentation for reviewers to determine whether the reclassification was warranted.

The monitor also noted that officers sometimes struggled to determine whether certain kinds of family disputes, such as altercations between siblings, constituted domestic-violence cases. The monitoring team said that it is working with NOPD officials and others to create better guidelines for patrol officers to make those determinations.

The federal monitor also criticized patrol officers for downgrading the urgency level of a significant number of domestic-violence calls from “emergency” to “non-emergency” without indicating why the call was downgraded or whether a supervisor approved the change.

Thirty-six of the 57 calls the monitor reviewed raised concerns on that issue.

Patrol officers were also taken to task for improperly using the “gone on arrival” tag to indicate that no one was present when officers arrived at the scene of a reported incident. In monitoring 41 calls, the monitor found that 13 of those were handled within NOPD guidelines while 28 were handled in a manner that raised concerns.

If a patrol officer arrives at the scene of a reported physical attack on a woman by a man, for example, nine hours later and no one answers a knock on the door, the call is designated as “gone on arrival.”

“This means the original domestic-violence incident is never documented,” the federal monitor said in its report, which makes it more difficult for victims and prosecutors to document a history of abuse.

“The monitoring team has noted the significant progress the NOPD has made in handling domestic violence calls over the past few years, but this targeted audit demonstrates there is need for additional improvement — and we responded immediately through corrective action and improved systems of accountability,” Tidwell said.

The NOPD is in the midst of a federally mandated, 492-point consent decree aimed at ensuring that the troubled police department is compliant with federal standards for constitutional policing. Implementation of the consent decree began in August 2013 after a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report that said the NOPD was rife with corruption and abuse.

This article originally published in the January, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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