While saying that many New Orleans police officers seem to be “longing for change,” the court-appointed monitor tracking a wide range of Police Department reforms says the NOPD has lagged on meeting several deadlines laid out in a consent decree that a federal judge endorsed early last year.
At the same time, a report released Thursday singles out for praise the agency that oversees perhaps the pact’s most controversial change: city regulation of paid off-duty police details.
The second quarterly progress report from the monitoring firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton is by turns complimentary, patient and highly critical of the NOPD’s progress in meeting the demands of a reform deal that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed in July 2012.
The first report in the fall found that city officials were charging ahead with inadequate policy changes without consulting the Justice Department or the monitor, who reports to U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.
On the plus side, the 126-page review credits the new Office of Police Secondary Employment for “impressive” statistics and “growing success” in converting a system of off-duty security jobs that was long run by the cops themselves into a system managed out of City Hall.
That change, which began to take hold in February, has riled groups representing police officers, who filed a federal lawsuit over the new system and continue to rail against its inclusion in the reform pact.
The monitoring team, the report says, “has observed continued misunderstanding and confusion among police officers regarding the role of OPSE, the benefits of OPSE and the future of OPSE.” But that may be changing, the report says, citing “increased acceptance” of the new system among officers.
An attorney for the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge disputed that, noting that just 262 officers — less than a quarter of the total sworn police force — have worked details under the new system, following a sharp decline in total NOPD detail work that started in 2011.
“There’s disenchantment and distrust,” Donovan Livaccari said. “I would say there’s a very long way to go.”
While giving high marks to the new detail office, the report reflects ongoing frustration with the NOPD’s approach to redrafting some of its policies to comply with mandates that are intended to fix constitutional violations that have long plagued the department.
The report takes particular issue with the NOPD’s policies on officers’ use of force, complaining that it has repeatedly failed to bring them up to snuff.
It says the department also has come up short in a key reform that requires officers to interrogate arrested subjects in a police facility and that says “all interrogations that involve suspected homicides or sexual assaults shall be video and audio recorded, and that all recorded custodial interrogations will be recorded in their entirety.”
None of the four police districts that the monitor looked at — districts 4, 5, 6 and 7 — could come up with a list of their custodial interrogations, meaning questioning of people in custody.
The report says the department was “unable to demonstrate compliance” with several of the nearly 500 measures on which the NOPD needs to show significant progress for the city to get out from under the consent decree, which is expected to cost some $55 million over five years.
The report — which covers the period from Nov. 1 to March 31 — finds the NOPD has failed to meet deadlines for, among other things:
- Teaching officers about the consent decree and their responsibilities under it.
- Setting up policies, procedures and a schedule for testing whether Tasers, vehicle locators and in-car camera equipment are working.
- Finding someone to monitor whether the NOPD is meeting requirements under the consent decree for providing language assistance.
- Reassessing the allocation and deployment of officers.
The report notes, though, that compliance with the consent decree is “not a numbers counting exercise” and that the report is a snapshot of the department’s progress.
“The mere fact the department cannot yet demonstrate compliance with a particular requirement of the consent decree does not necessarily reflect a ‘failure’ by the NOPD,” it says. “To the contrary, it may simply mean the NOPD is progressing toward compliance.”
Still, the monitor harkened back to the first report, in which it complained the NOPD had revised policies in several key areas — on firearms, search-and-seizure, use of force and misconduct complaints, for instance — without first consulting the monitor and Justice Department officials.
The department went back to the drawing board, the new report says, but returned with new policy revisions that had many of the same problems.
NOPD’s use-of-force policy, the report says, remains out of compliance with more than half of the relevant portions of the consent decree.
In a statement, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas blamed a slow city approval process, such as for beefing up the Compliance Bureau, for some of the lapses the monitor cites.
“We’re committed to working with the monitor and the Department of Justice to improve the policy review process and to make records more easily accessible,” Serpas said.
The report also shows that the monitoring team reviewed 13 reports on officers’ use of force, all of which the NOPD found to be justified, including three cases in which officers used Tasers. However, the monitor found two of the investigations into the incidents failed the sniff test.
In one case, the report says, “the investigating supervisor was involved in the use of force.” In another, “there was no indication that the supervisor was ever on the scene of the use of force, that he viewed the arrestee or attempted to interview him.”
At the same time, a special Force Investigation Team has made strides in improving the quality of investigations into officers’ use of force, the report says.
A spokesman for Landrieu said: “As we work to make the NOPD the best police department in the country, we’ve made a lot of progress, and we still have a long way to go.”
The public will have a chance to learn about the report and air its views on the department’s progress at public hearings required under the reform pact.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.