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Groups denied input in NOPD reforms

10th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

A federal judge has denied petitions from four groups seeking to have a say in an agreement New Orleans has reached with the Justice Department to overhaul the city’s troubled police department.

The local daily paper reported that U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan on Aug. 31 denied requests from two police association organizations, Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson and nonprofit Community United for Change.

The agreement spells out a series of strict requirements for overhauling the department’s policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.

Each of the four groups that sought to intervene found fault with aspects of the proposal, saying they want to be part of the discussion about how it should be reworked.

Both the U.S. Department of Justice and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu opposed efforts by these groups to gain a seat at the bargaining table, saying their participation and input would make the processs cumbersome.

In her decision, Morgan said that none of the four provided sufficient legal reasons why they s should be allowed to intervene in the case.

Morgan did emphasize that she will not “rubber stamp” the plan and will consider their concerns.

She also did not completely shut the door on the possibility that the two police associations that sought a seat at the table might be able to intervene at some point in the future.

“Nevertheless, the Court underscores, the City and the United States cannot use the proposed Consent Decree as a means of legally sanctioning a violation of the Civil Service rules,” Morgan said in her ruling. “If changes are proposed to any NOPD policies that may conflict with the Civil Service rules and procedures, FOP and/or PANO may move to intervene for the limited purpose of asserting their Civil Service property rights.”

In its initial court filings, Com­munity United for Change echoed the sentiments of many in the Black community to trust the NOPD to implement lasting reforms without federal vigilance and local civilian oversight.

“Why should anyone be confident that the NOPD can change itself?” CUC asks in the August 7 court papers. “Over the past several decades there have been numerous attempts to reform the NOPD but these attempts have been successfully resisted and evaded by the NOPD. In order to have a real chance to propose and enforce real changes, the consent decree must include the creation of a strong, independent civilian oversight committee constructed by grassroots community organizations which has real power to investigate both individual and systemic complaints and claims of illegal behavior against NOPD.”

In a recent interview with The Louisiana Weekly, CUC attorney Bill Quigley said reforming the NOPD would likely be a lengthy, complicated process that extends far beyond the federally prescribed four-year time span.

“People who have studied the New Orleans Police Department say that the problems have been there for decades and decades and decades, and I think it may take 10 to 20 years honestly to turn it around because that’s the average life of a police officer,” Quigley told The Louisiana Weekly. “You have hundreds of officers who have been on the force for a long time and they’re going to have to be retrained and repurposed. Then a whole new generation of officers is going to have to come in, hopefully with the benefit of new, much-improved training, supervision and leadership.

“It didn’t take us 10 years to get like this and it’s not going to take us 10 years to undo it,” he added.

“I’m sure the Court and the Justice Department are hopeful that there can be dramatic, permanent change that will happen in a very short amount of time, but look where the city is seven years after Katrina,” Quigley said. “We certainly have made a lot of improvements but we have a long way to go, and why would we expect that a true, fundamental restructuring of the police department would take any less time than that?

“I think the Court, the NOPD, the Justice Department and the mayor are all hopeful, but for those of us that are more realistic, the problems aren’t going to go away in that kind of time period. And I think if the problems don’t go away, then this process is not going to stop.”

All four parties will be allowed to participate in a “fairness hearing” held on Sept. 12, during which they can present evidence about their concerns, according to Morgan’s order.

This article was originally published in the September 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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