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IG pushes for better use of NOPD body cameras

27th October 2014   ·   0 Comments

Hire cops, not civilian patrols, mayor and police chief told

New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said last week that he is determined to find a way to ensure that the NOPD does a better job of implementing, utilizing and monitoring police body cameras.

“I think it has the potential to reform the police department,” Quatrevaux told FOX 8 News Thursday. “This applies equally to police officers and citizens: When the camera is on, you behave differently. You know, you watch what you’re doing.”

The inspector general, who said this summer that the NOPD is suffering from poor management of its available workforce and not a manpower shortage, said last week that a recent study supports the notion that body cameras can help to improve cops’ performance on the job and police-community relations.

Quatrevaux told Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a public letter that in Rialto, California there were 2.5 times fewer use-of-force incidents reported during the first year patrol officers wore cameras.

“What they found was that it reduced the amount of uses of force by police officers,” Deputy Mayor and CAO Andy Kopplin told FOX 8 News. “It also found that police officers were often exonerated in complaints and basically that body cameras are a really smart modern police practice, and New Orleans is leading the way. It’s something that we invested in heavily as part of the consent decree.”

Quatrevaux told FOX 8 that body cameras made a big difference in citizen complaints in Rialto, with 28 complaints one year and just three the following year when many patrol officers wore cameras.

“To eliminate this dilemma of citizen complaints, this ‘He said, she said’ business, we need to get out of that business,” Quatrevaux said. “This is the way to do it.”

Quatrevaux said handling complaints is a significant cost to the police department.

According to the Office of the Independent Police Monitor, NOPD had 951 total complaints in 2013 and 1176 in 2012.

“If we can reduce our complaints 90 percent that would be a remarkable achievement – a real advance in improving community police relations,” said Quatrevaux.

However, the cameras will only work if they’re turned on.

The issue of body cameras took on an added urgency in August after NOPD Officer Lisa Lewis turned off her camera just moments before shooting a suspect in the head.

The incident went unreported for two days and NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas blamed the misstep on a mistake by a public information officer. Less than a week later, Serpas announced his retirement.

NOPD consent-decree monitor Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton issued a report in August that video footage was not available for at least 86 out of 145 use-of-force incidents in the first half of the year.

Quatrevaux said he has a plan to turn things around.

“I’m going to work with the NOPD. Once they get their roll out complete and they’ve got all their procedures, I want to work out with them a program of unannounced inspections to make sure the cameras are in use without waiting for an incident to find that there’s no camera on,” Quatrevaux said.

City officials told FOX 8 that patrol officers are being trained to use the cameras, and they will work with the Inspector General.

“He’s got broad latitude and an important job to do to make sure that he helps the government be effective and efficient and use money wisely, and so we’re always going to cooperate and work with him to make sure we’re doing things as well as we possibly can,” Kopplin said.

The NOPD currently has more than 400 body cameras being used by patrol officers and City Council recently approved funding to purchase 100 more body cameras for field supervisors.

A group of French Quarter business owners who were expected to applaud the City’s announcement that it would use funds collected from a hotel tax to pay for the hiring of civilians to patrol the Vieux Carré threw the mayor and police chief a curve when they insisted that the City of New Orleans use that money to hire NOPD officers instead.

Since the summer, French Quarter business owners have agreed to pay for greater police protection in the area after a rash of robberies, assaults and a violent gunfight on Bourbon Street in June that left one woman dead and nine others wounded. Most of those injured during the incident were visitors to the city.

The mayor unveiled a plan to provide additional help to French Quarter businesses by training civilians to patrol the area and allowing NOPD officers to tackle violent crime.

The business owners decided that the civilian patrols would be a Band-Aid approach to stemming the rising tide of violent crime in the Quarter and insisting that the City find a way to fast-track the hiring of police officers.

That’s a tall order given reports that the NOPD is losing officers faster than it can replace them and is expected to lose about 150 officers by the end if 2014. reported earlier this month that State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell gave the Landrieu administration the green light to begin using financial bonuses to current officers as an NOPD recruitment tool. The Civil Service Commission had asked the state AG to weigh in on the issue in April.

“The City of New Orleans has a great interest in ensuring the safety and welfare of its citizens, and it furthers that interest through maintaining and strengthening its police department,” Assistant, AG John Morris wrote on AG Caldwell’s behalf in an advisory opinion.

“Recruitment of new and additional officers is necessary to maintain and strengthen its police department, and thus, expending public funds for recruitment of new NOPD officers qualifies as a valid public purpose.”

Although the NOPD is budgeted to hire 150 new officers this year, it will not reach that goal and the number of officers has dipped to a 30-year low of slightly above 1,100. The mayor has said that the city needs about 1,600 to keep residents and visitors safe.

Under the Landrieu administration plan, NOPD officers will be paid $1,000 to bring in new officers — $500 when new recruits enter the police academy and another $500 when they complete the three-month training program and join the police department.

Despite earlier reports that celebrated the NOPD’s success in reducing the city’s murder rate in 2014, the latest figures reveal that the progress made in reducing homicides was short-lived. On Tuesday, the murder of 15-year-old George Carter in the 3400 block of Piety Street gave the city its 12th juvenile homicide in 2014, surpassing totals for both 2012 and 2013. Also Tuesday, the shooting death of a woman in a lot near the intersection of North Derbigny and Dumaine streets pushed 2014’s murder tally to 124, two homicides than were committed by the same date last year as 2013 ended with 156 murders.

An NOPD spokesman said investigators were unable to determine the female victim’s age, race or identity. Although she was found with her pants pulled down, investigators that an autopsy would be needed to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted

In other NOPD-related news, Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson asked the NOPD’s top brass to review the embattled department’s retaliation policy. The 25-page report was released on Oct. 17 as loved ones, friends and supporters of Kim Groves gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of her murder by a former NOPD officer.

The mother of three was killed in a “hit” ordered by NOPD Officer Len Davis after Groves reported him for police misconduct. Davis’ conversation with Groves’ killer was recorded and used by prosecutors during the trial. The case made international headlines , reinforced New Orleans’ reputation as the nation’s “murder capital” and led to a federally mandated consent decree.

Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson said Oct. 17 that it’s important the embattled police department take a close look at its retaliation policy and do whatever it can to protect civilians who come forward to provide authorities with information about illegal activity and gain the trust and cooperation of residents.

The new report called the NOPD’s current retailing policy incomplete and said the department needs to do more to create a safe environment in which residents and officers feel comfortable sharing information about police misconduct,

WWL-TV reported that at a public meeting on Oct. 20, Hutson presented her office’s recommendations on how the NOPD can improve its policy on retaliation, prompting Landrieu administration officials to encourage community input on changes the city and NOPD need to make to the department’s retaliation policy.

“The greater tragedy is that every time a person witnesses a crime or misconduct, they have to worry about it they will end up like our mom,” Kim Groves’ daughter, Jasmine Groves, said during Monday’s meeting in City Council chambers.

“She spoke up for somebody else and paid the ultimate price,” Hutson told the crowd.

The independent police monitor added that retaliation by NOPD officers remains a problem 20 years after the murder of Kim Groves. “Some of the people who’ve even filed reports wouldn’t come forward today and speak about it,” she said. “We talked to many officers who said ‘We can’t speak out — we’re still afraid.’”

Mike McMahon, the federal prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office who handled the Len Davis case, said that the work atmosphere at the NOPD leaves a lot to be desired.

“The one adjective that would generally describe the NOPD would be unprofessionalism,” McMahon said, “Sorry, it’s my opinion and I have the cases to back it up.”

In the Independent Police Monitor’s report, residents reported 63 cases of retaliation by NOPD officers. Five percent were found to be true. Interestingly, 40 percent of the 26 retaliation complaints filed by officers against other officers were found by investigators to be true.

“We take about a tenth of the complaints in the whole department, so we know it’s going to be a lot more than what we are seeing,” Hutson explained.

City officials have asked for community input as the NOPD revamps its retaliation policy and implement other changes.

“It’s very concerning for us,” NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison told WWL-TV at Monday’s meeting hosted by the Inde­pendent Police Monitor. “It’s about building trust. I believe that open lines of communication and meetings like this and having that dialog will build that trust.”

“This is just the start, the start of the dialog about it,” Hutson said. “We have to keep this open and let them know we are here. If you are afraid of the police, come talk to me. We’ll take the complaints for you, we will keep your name anonymous and we will look into it for you.”

Hutson said that her office’s recommended changes are consistent with changes being implemented in other law enforcement agencies across the U.S. under federal consent decrees.

This article originally published in the October 27, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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