Michael Harrison EPIC pinning

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, left, and New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison congratulate officers receiving pins symbolizing their completion of the "Ethical Policing is Courageous" program. 

A federal judge Friday approved several changes to the 2013 consent decree that mandated scores of reforms in New Orleans' troubled Police Department, including eliminating the requirement that officers must rotate off the force's SWAT, or special weapons and tactics team, after five years.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan signed off on the changes at the request of both the federal government and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration. The team of monitors tracking the reform process, led by Jonathan Aronie, reviewed and endorsed the amendments, court filings said.

Allowing the SWAT team personnel to stay in place longer should help them better "develop expertise and experience" as well as "maintain a professional culture" in a unit trained to respond to some of the department's most volatile, perilous situations, court filings said.

Another change ends the need for supervisors to respond to scenes where an officer pulls someone to the ground or wields a baton without striking anyone, provided that no one is hurt or complains about being injured.

That change should ease time demands on the mid-level management of an 1,100-officer department with a longstanding manpower shortage.

Attorneys for the feds and Landrieu's office said cops will still need to record those uses of force on their body-worn cameras.

The new changes will also require supervisors to review all footage from 10 percent of such incidents to ensure the department is properly classifying such uses of force.

The consent decree that Morgan is overseeing was the result of a federal investigation that found widespread instances of excessive force and constitutional violations at the NOPD. The department hopes to get out from under federal oversight within the next three or so years.

The consent decree said city and federal officials could jointly seek modifications to the pact if they proved to be necessary because of new circumstances or experiences. Officials have occasionally sought to exercise that power previously, though primarily on issues concerning secondary employment, such as off-duty details.

The latest changes include a pair of measures again addressing the topic of such details, which are important to the rank-and-file, who count on such work to supplement their base salaries and overtime pay.

One of the new rules allows officers who have completed field training and are certified with the state to work off-duty details unsupervised, "since those officers already can perform similar duties unsupervised for NOPD," the filings said.

The other change ends the requirement that the office in charge of police details maintain a comprehensive historical record of secondary employment, which both sides called "a burdensome task that has had little practical benefit."

Talks leading up to the 2013 consent decree identified the department's old system of secondary employment as an "aorta of corruption," and earlier versions of the pact didn't completely clean up that area.

The three officers coordinating off-duty security jobs were assigning themselves more than half of the details until an Advocate/WWL-TV investigation exposing that fact prompted the department to prohibit that.

Nonetheless, police officer organizations have long pushed to loosen the restrictions on details or to reorganize the section overseeing those jobs, saying that limited secondary employment opportunities are among the chief reasons for high attrition among officers.

Most of the remaining changes to the consent decree address training of recruits and continued professional development for officers.

One change tasks the NOPD with developing and updating an overall plan for officers' training rather than leaving it to a volunteer advisory committee. The department will be required to submit its plan to the committee for comment and approval.

Another requires training academy instructors to take an FBI teaching course that covers the same material in half the time as the state teaching course that was previously required.

A third change requires the department to consider the nature and severity of any complaints against officers wishing to teach at the academy before disqualifying them. Previously, most cops with a sustained complaint in the past two years or a pending complaint at the time of application were barred from teaching at the academy.

The feds and the city said both instructor-related changes should expand the list of potential training academy teachers while still keeping undesirable mentors away from recruits.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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