District commanders who oversee the New Orleans Police Department’s beat cops grumbled and shook their heads Wednesday as a lieutenant from the department’s internal watchdog agency announced a set of new use-of-force policies to take effect Aug. 9.
Among other new rules, which have not yet been made public, officers will have to write a report every time they draw their weapons in public view, even if they don’t end up pulling the trigger.
The policy changes have been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice but not yet released to the public.
Their implementation comes as U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan is set to personally inspect district stations next week to see how well the force is living up to the terms of a 2012 reform agreement with the federal government, motivated in part by explosive allegations of police violence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
But many of the officers attending a weekly commanders meeting Wednesday clearly were not pleased by the additional burden of paperwork.
“Anything that may require them to pull out guns, remember, do a use-of-force report,” Lt. Gwen Nolan, of the Public Integrity Bureau, said to disbelieving groans.
One high-ranking officer could be heard muttering, “That’s crazy,” under his breath.
Use-of-force incidents dropped from 421 in 2013 to 409 last year, according to an annual NOPD report released in April. However, officers displayed their guns 101 times in 2014 as opposed to 64 times the year before — a 58 percent jump.
Donovan Livaccari, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Crescent City Lodge, called the new reporting requirement “overkill” and questioned how it will be enforced.
“What constitutes public view?” he asked. “Does someone else need to see it? If so, how would an officer know if someone saw it?”
Livaccari also said the NOPD has not yet put its officers through a 40-hour use-of-force training that’s required by the federal consent decree.
“The department is prone to making sure people understand the policy through the use of discipline instead of training,” he said.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said more extensive use-of-force training will come after the new policies go into effect Aug. 9.
It’s not yet clear whether the new rules include any other significant changes.
Gamble said the full list will be released to the public only when they go into effect.
In May 2014, federal monitors criticized the department for not redrafting its use-of-force policies as quickly as was required by the federal consent decree. The new rule about reporting on drawn weapons was not specifically required by that agreement.
Morgan, the judge in charge of making sure the department honors the deal, is visiting district stations next week as part of her inspection efforts. At a consent decree progress hearing in May, she chided the NOPD for moving too slowly.
Federal monitor Jonathan Aronie said Morgan had set a July deadline for the department to demonstrate significant improvement, although how the judge will evaluate the department and what penalties she might impose are not clear.
Despite what many see as slow progress, there was some sign Wednesday that reform efforts might finally be paying off. Nolan said complaints against officers had dropped by 15 percent so far this year compared with last year.
The city argued in a July 1 brief that it had made “significant progress” in implementing the consent decree over the past six months.
An April report from federal monitors appointed by the court found a “mixed bag.”