Friday, January 11, 2013

Judge signs NOPD consent decree against city's wishes

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Federal Judge Susie Morgan today signed the long-awaited New Orleans Police Department consent decree, a sprawling overhaul of the department, overseen by U.S. Department of Justice, one that Mayor Mitch Landrieu has sought since he took office in 2010.

However, it seems Landrieu had a sudden change of heart, according to the Times-Picayune, which interviewed him yesterday.

In an interview on Thursday, Landrieu did an about-face on the police agreement, saying he couldn't sign it with the specter of having to pay the tab for proposed fixes at the Orleans Parish jail. That deal, a separate proposed consent decree, could do "catastrophic damage" to the city budget, he said.

The estimated cost of the NOPD agreement is $55 million over five years. Landrieu committed $7 million to it in the 2013 budget.

At the same time, the city is facing the prospect of yet another consent decree, for the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and Orleans Parish Prison. Sheriff Marlin Gusman believes the terms set in that consent decree could cost millions per year, which, he contends, is the city's responsibility. The funding issue has been central to two separate federal lawsuits: Jones v. Gusman, the consent decree suit in which the city is a third-party defendant; and Hamilton v. Morial, a suit originally filed in 1969 in which a settlement determined the per-diem rate city government pays the sheriff to house inmates.

Gusman, who on the one hand has called for an end to the per-diem system, on the other is seeking a temporary increase in the per inmate, per day rate until the matter of consent decree funding is settled.

The city has argued that the sheriff alone is responsible for the conditions in the jail he oversees and has thus far balked at the prospect of increasing his funding. Furthermore, Gusman has not complied with the city's requests for information on his current budget.

A trial to determine whether the OPP consent decree is warranted has been set for next month, though it may be unnecessary because the federal government and the inmate plaintiff class in the Jones suit have reached an agreement with Gusman on the consent decree. Another on funding the agreement has been set for April. And a hearing on Gusman's per diem modification request, originally set for next week, has been moved to March.

The city plans to file a motion for relief challenging today's judgment on the NOPD consent decree, according to court filings. That motion is due by the end of the month.

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