The long-awaited federal consent decree to overhaul the New Orleans Police Department was issued in 2012, but as Charles Maldonado reports, the process is just beginning.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder swept into town last July, announcing that after two years of investigation and negotiations, the city of New Orleans and the Department of Justice (DOJ) had finally drafted a consent decree for the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). The consent decree, at 124 pages, was the "most wide-ranging" agreement of its kind in DOJ's history, Holder said at the time.
The 491-point agreement covered almost every aspect of policing, from officer shooting investigations and suspect interrogations to officer promotion procedures and off-duty details (now called police secondary employment). It banned the use of pepper spray, recommending tasers in its place, and demanded that citizens be allowed to photograph and videotape officers on duty. It was to last four to five years and would be overseen by a contracted monitor, who in turn would report to U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan. The expected cost would be $55 million, according to city estimates.
Five months later, the consent decree still hasn't been finalized with Morgan's signature.
In early August, the city's two largest officer associations — the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) — along with New Orleans Independent Police Monitor (IPM) Susan Hutson and citizens' group Community United for Change filed requests to intervene as named parties to the consent decree.
FOP and PANO objected to provisions they felt undermined city civil service rules governing promotions, evaluations and hiring and firing procedures. They also called for increased recruitment and more opportunities for officer promotion to be part of the final consent decree.
Hutson and Community United for Change objected to a lack of citizen input in consent decree implementation. All four groups claimed the city repeatedly ignored their input before and during consent decree negotiations, which the city denied.
On Aug. 31, Morgan denied all four intervener requests, though in her ruling she left an opening for future interventions from FOP and PANO.
"If changes are proposed to any NOPD policies that may conflict with the Civil Service rules and procedures, FOP and/or PANO may move to intervene for the limited purpose of asserting their Civil Service property rights," it read.
Community United for Change and the FOP both have appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has not, as of this writing, scheduled a hearing on those appeals.
Morgan also allowed the four would-be interveners to testify during a daylong evidentiary hearing on the consent decree in September.
The cost of the consent decree briefly became a budget issue during 2013 city budget talks. District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said the city's $7 million consent decree allocation for 2013, including $2 million for the monitor, was a "ripoff." Nevertheless, the consent decree budget ultimately passed intact.
As of press time, the city and DOJ have not yet identified a contractor for the federal monitor job, and Morgan has yet to put her signature on the agreement.