The Department of Justice released a report criticizing the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Thursday, identifying “systematic failures” and misconduct that violated the Constitution including victimization of black and gay citizens, serious failures to properly investigate certain crimes such as sexual assaults, and the use of excessive force.
These were the findings of a 10-month DOJ review that, following years of criticism and complaints, came about by request of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for an independent investigation of NOPD’s systems and operations to try and help tackle issues of misconduct.
From the DOJ press release:
The investigation, announced on May 15, 2010, was conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Justice Department’s thorough and independent investigation involved extensive community engagement and in-depth review of NOPD practices.
The Justice Department participated in more than 40 community meetings with various advocacy groups, civic leaders and public officials. The investigation also involved thorough review of a wide range of NOPD documents, as well as ride-alongs and other opportunities to observe police activity.
The Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law occurred in several areas, including:
* Use of excessive force
* Unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests
* Biased policing, including:
* Racial and ethnic profiling and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) discrimination;
* A systemic failure to provide effective policing services to persons with limited English proficiency; and
* A systemic failure to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence.
The Justice Department also found a number of long-standing and entrenched practices within NOPD that caused or contributed to these patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct, including:
* Failed systems for officer recruitment, promotion and evaluation
* Inadequate training
* Inadequate supervision
* Ineffective systems of complaint intake, investigation and adjudication
* A failed “Paid Detail” system
* Failure to engage in community oriented policing
* Inadequate officer assistance and support services
* Lack of sufficient community oversight
“For far too long, the New Orleans Police Department failed to adequately protect the citizens of the city. This was a result of its failure to ensure respect for and adherence to the Constitution,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. “Today’s findings should serve as a foundation not only to rebuild the police department, but to help restore the community’s trust in fair, just and effective law enforcement.”
“Our findings show that the problems facing the NOPD are wide ranging, systemic, and deeply rooted in the culture of the Department,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Our team looks forward to working with the people of New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu, Chief Serpas and his officers in creating and implementing a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform.”
The Justice Department will work with the NOPD and the city of New Orleans to address the violations of constitutional and federal law by developing and implementing comprehensive reforms that will reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, and restore public confidence in the NOPD. The NOPD must develop and implement new policies and protocols and train its officers in effective and constitutional policing. In addition, the NOPD must implement systems to ensure accountability, foster police-community partnerships, improve the quality of policing to all parts of the city and eliminate unlawful bias from all levels of policing decisions.
This investigation was not related to any ongoing federal criminal prosecutions of NOPD officers.
The Washington Post reports on several incidents in which New Orleans police have been subject to criminal investigations, including incidents regarding the unlawful killing of members of the public. The death of Henry Glover is one such case. His burned body was found in a car near a police station following Hurricane Katrina. As of June last year, three officers had been convicted. You can read more here.
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