N.O.P.D. routinely misclassified rape cases
19th May 2014 · 0 Comments
The New Orleans inspector general recently filed a report that says the New Orleans Police Department has an “institutional problem” classifying rapes, contributing to sexual assault statistics that are far below the norm for cities of similar size and crime rates.
According to the audit conducted by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, there was no evidence that police deliberately under-reported rape statistics.
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reported Wednesday the audit criticizes the department for breakdowns in internal controls that contributed to rape statistics that were 43 percent lower than those from 24 other cities with the country’s highest crime rates in 2012.
According to the audit, a sample of 90 cases over three years showed that 46 percent of forcible rape cases were improperly classified. Twenty-two percent of those forcible rapes were misclassified as miscellaneous offense, 16 percent were improperly ruled unfounded and eight percent were misclassified as a lesser crime of sexual battery.
“By misclassifying the UCR (Uniform Crime Report) data, the actual crimes that occurred were unknown to the public as well as law enforcement,” Quatrevaux said. “NOPD should ensure its officers are in compliance with its policies and procedures, and do a better job of making sure crime data is reported accurately.”
NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas issued a statement last week that disputed the audit’s findings and said that internal reviews and external audits have “failed to show any pattern or practice to downgrade the reporting of crime.”
“We do not agree that the NOPD misclassified sexual assault crimes and independent experts substantially validated our data,”
“The NOPD has been fudging the numbers on a variety of stats over the years,” W.C. Johnson, host of local cable-access show “OurStory” and a member of Community United for Change, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “This should have concerned the people of New Orleans years ago. With the federal government monitoring the NOPD, residents need to be vocal and visible about the problems they see at hand. Remember, the feds will not be here long.
“Anytime there is a question of veracity within the confines of the public sector, there is reason for great concern among the people,” Johnson added. “Whether it is burglary, murder, rape or jaywalking, the need for correct and substantial data needs to be the hallmark of honesty within the governmental structure.”
“It is troubling,” Darlene Santana, executive director of New Orleans’ Metropolitan Center for Women and Children, a victims’ aid organization, told Nola.com. “Organizations like ours rely heavy on accurate statistics for grant-funding opportunities. And for victims of these crimes, I think it shakes their confidence in the system.”
The critical audit comes less than a year after implementation of the federally mandated NOPD consent decree has begun. The decree, aimed at addressing a host of ills, abuses and unconstitutional practices described in a scathing 2011 FBI report that described the NOPD as a department rife with corruption.
The mayor and police chief fought for years to toss out the NOPD consent decree, insisting that the City of New Orleans could not afford to pay for OPP and NOPD consent decrees and that the NOPD did not need a consent decree because it had already begun to reform itself.
Despite an online posting scandal that cost U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and three federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of Louisiana their jobs, a federal judge rejected the City of New Orleans’ contention that the NOPD consent-decree negotiation process was tainted by the involvement of Sal Perricone and Jan Mann and ruled against tossing out the consent decree.
Johnson said Friday that NOPD consent-decree monitor Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton has failed to report the misclassification of rape cases documented by the OIG’s office last week. He said that failure can be attributed in part to the firm’s stubborn refusal to utilize grassroots organizations’ familiarity with questionable practices embraced by the NOPD.
“The federal monitor refuses to acknowledge any shortcomings and misguided direction,” Johnson said. “CUC is watching the failures of the monitor as the monitor continues to refuse to employ the assistance of grassroots organizations like CUC to give them the edge the U.S. Department of Justice had in their initial investigation. The city is taking advantage of the monitor’s blunders… the city told the courts Sheppard-Mullin was not the right fit for the job.”
Johnson blasted the NOPD for willfully and systematically placing New Orleans residents in harm’s way by making them believe the city is safer than it actually is.
“By misleading the public into believing crime is at lower levels than they actually are, that lulls people into a false sense of security which makes people careless,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “Once people are careless, criminals have an open season on every category of crime known to man. It leaves our most valuable treasures, our women and children at risk and the elderly venerable for easy pickings.”
Longtime community activist Rev. Raymond Brown said last week that the NOPD’s misclassification of rape cases could have dire and tragic consequences for residents.
“Everybody who reads or hears about the Inspector General’s report — city council members, state legislators and residents — should be appalled by this audit and what it means to the people of New Orleans,” Brown, president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly last week. “Though the Inspector General didn’t flat out say it, essentially he was saying that the NOPD is cooking the books with regard to the way rapes are recorded. By doing so, they put the public at risk in an effort to make it appear that New ORleans is safer and less violent than it actually is.
“We’ve seen this over and over again with this police department and this police chief,” Brown added. “Despite these kinds of issues, the mayor continues to insist that the police chief is doing a good job and refuses to find a suitable replacement to move this police department forward. And because he does so, the entire community continues to suffer. It isn’t time for a change of leadership in the NOPD — it’s way past time.”
This article originally published in the May 19, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.