The New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) latest reveal — an audit chronicling horrific mishandling of sexual assault cases by NOPD officers — made national headlines last week, furthering NOPD's reputation as morally corrupt. The report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) highlights some officers' failure to follow up on 86 percent of nearly 1,300 potential sexual assault cases from January 2011 to December 2013.
The OIG report also found that as of Oct. 3, NOPD had 53 outstanding hits for sexual assault on the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. CODIS links federal, state and local criminal justice agencies and can find matches for DNA profiles to identify offenders. The NOPD's outstanding hits could have potential matches for DNA profiles linked to other sexual assaults between July 2010 to September 2014.
NOPD failed to follow up on those hits — even after samples were submitted to the Louisiana State Police crime lab for testing. (One of the detectives in the report, Merrill Merricks, told Gambit earlier this year that the NOPD's backlog of rape kits for testing had been cleared. He has been accused of failing to submit DNA for testing.)
In a statement, New Orleans District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who also serves on the Council's Criminal Justice Committee, said the report "details in plain fact what many already know and fear: For too many victims of sex crimes, reporting the crimes against them does not lead to justice or safety, but to further victimization and trauma."
"We wonder why women don't speak up — who are they speaking up to?" Deon Haywood, director of the women's health advocacy group Women with a Vision, told Gambit. "You can't trust the people whose job is to protect you." Haywood recommends NOPD provide "implicit bias" training — to prevent officers from determining (or dismissing) criminal behavior based on stereotypes and personal attitudes.
This year has seen a staggering amount of "revictimization" among Louisiana survivors of sexual assault. State lawmakers passed a bill last spring to speed up the state's rape kit backlog collection, but in September, Nola.com | Times-Picayune reporter Rebecca Catalanello outlined in a series of articles the massive medical bills many sexual assault victims receive after emergency room visits for rape kit collections.
Haywood says it all means more "trauma and revictimization" of women who have been sexually assaulted. "What's more egregious, and feels inhuman, is that someone's job whose oath is to uphold the law, could do something so unlawful," she said.
Harrison announced Nov. 13 that the officers in the report are now on administrative reassignment while NOPD and the Public Integrity Bureau conduct an investigation.