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Hearing on consent decree leads to more questions

1st October 2012   ·   0 Comments

A federal judge in New Orleans held a Sept. 21 “fairness hearing’” on the proposed NOPD consent decree that is designed to reform the city’s embattled police department . Among those in attendance were representatives of Commu­nity United for Change, Indepen­dent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, the Police Association of New Orleans and the Fraternal Order of Police.

While none of the four groups seeking to intervene suggested doing away with the proposal, each presented recommendations about how the consent decree could be made more effective.

CUC recommended installing a citizens oversight committee, utilizing audio and visual equipment to monitor law enforcement officers and extending the consent decree beyond the proposed four years.

Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson complained that the proposal locks her office out of the reform process and the two police associations expressed concern about how the consent decree will impact NOPD officers’ civil service protections and their ability to carry out their duties as law enforcement officers.

While conceding that not everyone is happy with the consent decree proposal submitted after more than eight months of negotiations, DOJ officials defended the proposal and its suitability in addressing the ills of the New Orleans Police Department.

“This is an incredible opportunity for an incredible city,” DOJ prosecutor Roy Austin said.

Responding to CUC’s request to have officers utilize audio and visual recording devices on their uniforms, DOJ prosecutor Christy Lopez said Sept. 21 that it would not be cost-effective. But Lopez added that the DOJ might seek to revisit that suggestion if the department doesn’t clean up its act with regard to excessive use of force.

Both the Landrieu administration and the Department of Justice strongly opposed the group efforts of the four aforementioned to intervene in the consent decree proposal, arguing that allowing them to do so would complicate matters and further delay changes in the NOPD.

CUC member W.C. Johnson, host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly last week that there were many signs that made it clear that something was not quite right with the way the NOPD consent decree proposal has been handled and discussed.

“To see the number of people who opened their comments up (at the fairness hearing) by stating that they were in favor of the Consent Decree, but then immediately began to point out what was wrong with the Consent Decree… Changes, additions, deletions, and modifications all suggest that the document was not ready for ratification,” Johnson said.

“The push by the DOJ and the City suggest that a con is in the works,” Johnson continued. “We all know that con artists always push for immediate decisions. The reason is simple: Time allows for review, and review allows for weighing the proposal against sound thought and reasoning.

“The fairness hearing is supposed to weigh the merits of the agreement on its ability to be fair, reasonable and adequate. When the agreement is weighed against fairness, reasonability, and adequacy, the agreement falls short on all counts. The fact that New Orleans has been suffering with this disease for more than 100 years suggests it is impossible to correct this disease in four years. Even though DOJ wants to claim that they will be here until the reforms are complete, they refused to put that in writing. The agreement calls for four years; there is nothing in the agreement that states that the DOJ will be here until the reforms are successful. Another indication of a con artist at work, my word is my bond, but my signed guarantee says something different. It has only been seven short years since Katrina, and we all should have learned a lesson from the government and everyone else who hoodwinked the people of New Orleans. We want anything and everything in writing. If it is not written it does not apply.

“When you see the City of New Orleans and the Justice Depart­ment working so hard to block changes like a citizen oversight panel and the use of audio and visual recording equipment by cops in the field, that ought to send up a red flag,”Ramessu Merria­men Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “There’s something going on that the average citizen doesn’t know about here. something that smells very fishy. These negotiations show a different side of the mayor, not the second-lining, fun-loving guy but the control freak who has to rule the city with an iron fist and control it by any means necessary.

“For this to happen after many people’s loved ones were murdered like James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Henry Glover Raymond Robair and all the others who became victims of excessive police force is both shameful and criminal,” he added.

Ultimately, U.S. Judge Susie Morgan will decide whether to approve the consent decree proposal, which would mark the start of the NOPD reformation process. The judge has not set a date for ruling on the proposal.

This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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