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NOPD grapples with manpower shortage, changing standards

30th September 2013   ·   0 Comments

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas told members of the New Orleans City Council Wednesday that the police department is buying hundreds of cameras for officers to wear on their uniforms beginning as soon as late this year.

Serpas, who referred to himself during the meeting as a “change agent,” described the monitoring devices as “the future of American law enforcement.”

The Advocate reported that Serpas announced the move at a City Council committee meeting Wednesday called to discuss recruiting troubles in a department that has lost more than 300 officers — about 20 percent of the force — since Serpas was tapped by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to serve as NOPD superintendent in 2010.

“Imagine a day in the City of New Orleans, in the not-too-distant future, where every single time we pull over a car, we ask somebody who they are or what they’re doing, that that entire incident is audiotaped and videotaped,” Chief Serpas told members of the City Council., “We’re very excited about it.”

The “body-worn cameras” are not mandated under a federal consent decree governing police department reforms that Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed last year with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

But Community United for Change, one of four groups that sought to intervene before U.S. Judge Susie Morgan approved the NOPD consent decree in January 2013, tried unsuccessfully in several years ago to persuade Judge Morgan to require NOPD officers to utilize audio and visual devices to record all of their interactions with the public.

While Morgan did not endorse CUC’s recommendation for recording devices as part of the officers’ uniforms, the NOPD consent decree does require the use of cameras in every patrol car.

“When I heard about the NOPD purchasing cameras for the police to wear, I thought about how difficult it was for the top cops in New Orleans and the political leadership to conceive of any such notions,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “Ourstory,” told The Louisiana Weekly. “CUC was at least two years ahead of NOPD’s curve. If New Orleans revisits the People’s Consent Decree of 2011, authored by CUC, you will find a more comprehensive package for police reform than the current Consent Decree. Which proves once again that the people know better than the political leadership.

“My second thought was the NOPD’s leadership is trying to cover up the deficiencies between the number of officers budgeted for against the actual number of police officers on the force and on the streets. New Orleans taxpayers have been paying for budget items that don’t exist. By now, someone in the city needs to call for a forensic audit. The people of New Orleans are paying for a special class that does not return any value to the city. There is a special need for more watchdog-type organizations in New Orleans. The people of New Orleans need to budget less time for entertainment and more time counting the city’s money.”

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, agreed that there needs to be more attention paid to how the Landrieu administration spends the city’s money. “While well-connected cops are fighting for their right to control high-paying off-duty details, taxpayers who live in low-income and working-class neighborhoods are catching hell,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “That’s unacceptable.

“Even worse is the way the City of New Orleans continues to shortchange Black contractors and businesses in this majority-Black city,” Brown continued. “Contrary to what you hear in the news, a lot of Black people in this city get up every day and go to work and pay taxes regularly. But when it’s time to dole out lucrative city contracts, most of those opportunities go to wealthy, well-connected white contractors, white contractors from neighboring parishes and white businessmen who run companies fronted by Black faces in order to get DBE status.”

During last week’s meeting with City Council members, Serpas was grilled about the city’s shrinking police force and what can be done to reverse that trend. NOPD leaders blame retirement, low morale among current officers and the city’s domicile rule, which has sharply reduced the recruitment pool of applicants for the police academy.

On Thursday, City Council President Jackie Clarkson and Councilwoman Susan Guidry proposed suspending the domicile rule for cops for a year in order to give recruitment efforts a boost. The ordinance, which seeks to suspend the domicile rule that requires new NOPD, NOFD and EMS workers to live within Orleans Parish until Dec. 31, 2014, is expected to be voted on by the full City Council in the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, Community United for Change hosted an open meeting with members of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, the Washington, DC-based firm selected July 5, 2013 by Judge Susan Morgan to serve as federal monitor of the NOPD consent decree. The meeting resulted from a request from CUC to Judge Susie Morgan for an update about efforts to implement and monitor the NOPD consent decree.

As the court-appointed monitor, the Sheppard Mullin team will be the eyes and ears of the U.S. District Court with respect to the NOPD’s efforts to implement the terms of the consent decree. The team will conduct audits and reviews and perform outcome assessments to ensure that the terms of the Consent Decree are accurately incorporated into the Department’s written policies, effectively presented to all personnel through training, and actually implemented in practice.

The Sheppard Mullin team will spend significant time on the ground in New Orleans monitoring police practices; reviewing policies, reports, and data; meeting with officers, officials, and members of the public; and conducting other assessments as required by the Consent Decree. The Team will issue regular reports, which will be submitted to the Court and made available to the public through the Team’s website, www.­consent­decreemonitor.com, and the Court’s website, www.la­ed.us­courts.­gov/­Con­sent/consent.htm.

Among the Sheppard Mullin mem­bers who attended Tuesday’s meeting were lead monitor Jonathan Aronie, Bob McNeilly, a former police chief, and Alex Del Carmen, a professor at —- and Judith Dangerfield, one of Sheppard Mullin’s local partners. Also in attendance was New Orleans Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson.

Among the many residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting with Sheppard Mullin was Adisa Lois Adams, a former Frederick Douglass Senior High School educator whose former student was gunned by New Orleans police in his home last year. Allen, 20, was killed by former NOPD Officer Joshua Colclough with a single bullet to his chest while standing shirtless and unarmed on the staircase of his Gentilly home. Colclough, who recently apologized to Allen’s family, pleaded guilty in the March 7, 2012 incident last month and was sentenced to four years behind bars.

“Wendell Allen was my student. I was a teacher at Frederick Douglass, Adisa Lois Adams told WWL-TV Tuesday. “I’m very concerned about the training, how that’s going to happen, [and] these minimum sentences that police eventually get.”

Adding to everyone’s concern was U.S. Judge Kurt Englehardt recent ruling which granted five former NOPD officers a new trial after it was discovered that at least three prosecutors who worked under former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s administration inappropriately posted online comments about several active DOJ cases on nola.com. The cops, involved in deadly shootings on the Danziger Bridge that left two unarmed civilians dead and four others wounded less than a week after Hurricane Katrina, received prison sentences ranging from six years to 65 years. Five other officers were also sentenced in the case after accepting plea deals that required them to cooperate with federal investigators.

Federal prosecutors said in a Sept. 26, 2013 court ruling that the DOJ isn’t opposed to freeing a retired NOPD Sgt. Arthur Kaufman from prison while he awaits a new trial in the Danziger case.

Prosecutors said that one of the reasons they aren’t challenging Arthur Kaufman’s bond request is that he didn’t fire a gun on the Danziger Bridge when police shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt sentenced Kaufman to six years in prison after jurors convicted him of participating in a cover-up to make the shootings appear justified.

“Danziger makes this even more important, because once again the people of New Orleans are being robbed of justice,” W.C. Johnson told WWL-TV Tuesday.

Holding up a copy of the 124-page NOPD consent decree, Jonathan Arone told residents Tuesday, “This is my rule book, not only the rule book for NOPD and the city. But it’s the rule book that governs what we as a team do.”

When asked by someone attending the meeting about possible compensation for local residents interested in utilizing their skill set to aid Sheppard Mullin in carrying out its work, Jonathan Aronie told her that the firm would extend employment opportunities to local residents. He also told the audience that Sheppard Mullin will hold additional meetings with the public as the implementation process moves forward.

The five-year NOPD consent-decree contract will cost the City of New Orleans an estimated $55 million.

The meeting lasted about two hours and gave the community and Sheppard Mullin an opportunity to feel each other out.

Johnson said the meeting with Sheppard Mullin was important for several reasons. “As CUC did with the Department of Justice, a conscious effort was made to form a relationship with DOJ so DOJ could have a total picture from the inside out,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “Thus, CUC has made it a point to engage the federally appointed monitor for the implementation of the NOPD’s consent decree. Without community grassroots involvement, the consent decree can very easily be swept under the rug. During the period between the DOJ’s Findings Letter and the construction of the Consent Decree, CUC has heard from a variety of citizens trying around the country and U.S. protectorates to get a federal investigation or who are engaged in a federal investigation for helpful hints as to how the community can ensure a fair and full accounting of the investigation. Equally so, the process for the federal monitor holds many provisions that allows for citizens and organizations to participate and contribute to the process. Without citizens and community organizations’ participation, the consent decree becomes as useless as the U.S. Constitution when people do not know their rights.

“The most productive gains from Tuesday’s meeting was the education of the community — which will be a continuing educational process — and the notice to the federal monitor that informed and knowledgeable people will monitor the monitor,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly.

CUC said Thursday that it re­mains determined to be fully engaged in the process of monitoring the implementation of the NOPD consent decree and changes in the way the city’s troubled police department conducts its business.

“The meeting was fruitful and the Monitoring Team was able to get a better understanding that the people of New Orleans are serious about this Consent Decree,” CUC said in a statement Thursday. “They also realized that CUC will hold them accountable and will go to court if we are not satisfied with the monitoring team’s work.”

“We are going to make sure that this monitor does to the letter of the law what it’s being paid to do,” Johnson told WWL-TV.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the September 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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