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Group seeks update on NOPD consent decree and its monitor

16th September 2013   ·   0 Comments

Community United for Change, a grassroots organization, sent a letter Tuesday to a federal judge last week seeking an update on the work a Washington, DC-based firm is doing to prepare to perform its duties as federal monitor of the NOPD consent decree. CUC contacted U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan last week seeking to get an update on what efforts are under way to implement and monitor the federally mandated decree designed to reform the New Orleans Police Department.

“CUC strongly believes that transparency and public participation are essential in making the New Orleans Police Department into a constitutional force which protects the safety and human rights of all people in New Orleans,” Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and CUC’s legal counsel, told Judge Morgan. “Therefore, CUC asks you to make sure that the Monitor you appointed in this matter holds an open public hearing in New Orleans as soon as possible. This public hearing is needed so the public can know what the Monitor has done, who are the Monitor team members on the ground in New Orleans, what the Monitor is doing now, and what specifically the Monitor plans to do to hold the New Orleans Police Department and the City of New Orleans accountable as outlined in the Consent Decree. The public needs to know so the public can participate in this much needed process. A public meeting is an important first step.”

In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice formally notified the City that it was initiating an investigation of the New Orleans Police Department for an alleged pattern or practice of unlawful misconduct, pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141’’); the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3789d (“Safe Streets Act”); and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (“Title VI”).

As part of its investigation, the Justice Dept., in conjunction with its police-practices consultants, conducted a detailed fact-finding review, including numerous tours of NOPD facilities; interviews with New Orleans officials, NOPD command staff, supervisors, and police officers; review of more than 36,000 pages of documents; and meetings with residents, community groups and other stakeholders within the city. In addition, the DOJ participated in detailed exit interviews between its police-practices consultants and NOPD officials following each investigatory tour.

CUC assisted the DOJ by holding a series of community gatherings that allowed DOJ investigators to hear testimonies from residents whose families have been adversely affected by unconstitutional policing.

The DOJ issued a written report of its findings on March 16, 2011. The report documents DOJ’s finding of a number of patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct and details DOJ’s concerns about a number of NOPD policies and practices.

In its report the DOJ said it found reasonable cause to believe that patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law occurred in several areas, including: use of excessive force; unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; biased policing, including: racial and ethnic profiling and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) discrimination; a systemic failure to provide effective policing services to persons with limited English proficiency; and a systemic failure to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence.”

The Justice Department also found a number of longstanding and entrenched practices within the NOPD that caused or contributed to these patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct, including: failed systems for officer recruitment, promotion and evaluation; inadequate training; inadequate supervision; Ineffective systems of complaint intake, investigation and adjudication; a failed “Paid Detail” system; failure to engage in community-oriented policing; inadequate officer assistance and support services; and lack of sufficient community oversight.

“For far too long, the New Orleans Police Department failed to adequately protect the citizens of the city. This was a result of its failure to ensure respect for and adherence to the Constitution,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. “Today’s findings should serve as a foundation not only to rebuild the police department, but to help restore the community’s trust in fair, just and effective law enforcement.”

“Our findings show that the problems facing the NOPD are wide ranging, systemic, and deeply rooted in the culture of the Department,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Our team looks forward to working with the people of New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu, Chief Serpas and his officers in creating and implementing a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform.”

The City of New Orleans signed the NOPD consent decree in July 2012 but has since tried to have it tossed out, arguing among other things that the NOPD consent-decree negotiation process was tainted by the involvement of two high-ranking prosecutors who worked for former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and were forced to resign amid an online posting scandal involving a number of active cases. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also tried to vacate the consent decree by arguing that the City cannot afford to pay for an NOPD and OPP consent decree and that the NOPD no longer needs a consent decree because it has already begun to implement some of the reforms mandated in the decree. The Landrieu administration has also delayed the selection of a federal monitor for the NOPD consent decree by requesting several deadline extensions for selecting a monitor and throwing its support behind Chicago-based finalist Hilliard Heintze. Hilliard Heintze was widely criticized by community activists, civil rights leaders and residents for utilizing two local partners — the Rev. Charles J. Southall and Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf — with ties to the Landrieu administration.

After several months of legal wrangling, the 10-member panel charged with the task of selecting a federal monitor failed to do so, making it necessary for Judge Susie Morgan to name a federal monitor. She did so on July 5, 2013, choosing Washington, DC-based Sheppard. Mullin. Richter & Hampton.

Judge Morgan moved the process forward last month when she finalized the terms of agreement under which the federal monitor will perform its duties.

“The time for delay is over,” Morgan wrote in her Aug. 9 ruling. “The monitor plays a crucial role in the implementation of the consent decree, and its work must — after almost seven months — finally begin.”

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement on August 12 in which he said he was “very concerned” about the cost of hiring Sheppard Mullin to serve as the NOPD consent-decree’s federal monitor.

“Every dollar we pay a high-priced monitor is a dollar we cannot spend on more police, NORD or fixing our streets,” Landrieu said. “If this firm had met the more competitive cost of the other proposal, the city would have saved $1.4 million. That’s $1.4 million that could have instead fully funded a new NOPD recruit class of 30 for a year, or an entire 12-week NORD summer swimming program, or the repair of more than 75,000 potholes. That’s why we are fighting so hard to negotiate the best value for the taxpayers.”

According to a Sheppard Mullin press release dated August 16, “the Team’s primary responsibility is to monitor and report on the NOPD’s implementation of the Consent Decree. The Monitor is not intended to, nor is it permitted to, replace or assume the role and duties of the City or the NOPD. Neither is it the Monitor’s role to replace or duplicate the function of the City’s own Independent Police Monitor (“IPM”). The IPM maintains its current duties and responsibilities, including its responsibility to monitor the NOPD, receive citizen complaints alleging police misconduct, and issue public reports. Importantly, the IPM, not the court-appointed Consent Decree Monitor, will remain the primary New Orleans entity for receiving citizen complaints involving the NOPD through its website (www.nola­ipm.org), by email (policemonitor@nolaoig.org), or by phone at (504) 681-3217.”

Asked Thursday why CUC requested an update from Judge Morgan on Sheppard Mullin’s progress, CUC member W.C. Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “We have not heard anything from Sheppard Mullin. It’s very quiet as far as progress is concerned. The community needs to be involved, it needs to be kept abreast of what is going on and we’re hearing absolutely nothing.”

Before the NOPD consent decree was approved by Judge Susie Morgan in January 2013, CUC was one of four groups seeking to intervene in the NOPD consent-decree proposal. CUC members argued that the NOPD consent decree as crafted did not go far enough to address the myriad of problems and unconstitutional practices committed by the city’s troubled police department. CUC members had hoped that Judge Morgan would reconsider the grassroots organization’s suggestion that NOPD officers utilize audio and video equipment when interacting with civilians to ensure that the department administers constitutional policing.

The other groups seeking to intervene in the NOPD consent-decree proposal were the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Association of New Orleans and the Office of the Independent Police Monitor.

CUC spent last month hosting a series of training sessions for its Cop Watch program and Community Oversight Committee to ensure that the community continues to play an active role in monitoring the activities of the New Orleans Police Department. The group has reached out to a number of agencies, including the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau and the Office of Independent Police Monitor in an effort to coordinate strategies to closely monitor the implementation of the NOPD consent decree.

“We are moving forward and we are being very aggressive in our implementation as well as citizen involvement in this process,” W.C. Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the September 16, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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