A once-secretive police force has been transformed into a model for releasing data to the public, New Orleans Police Department officials told a federal judge Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan agreed, praising the Police Department for progress in computerizing its reports and releasing more information to the public. Still, she saw room for improvement in other areas such as community policing.

The linchpin of the police presentation to the federal judge who is overseeing a 2012 consent decree for reforming the NOPD is a new software suite called MAX, short for Management Analytics for eXcellence, which replaced the old Comstat statistics briefings earlier this year.

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As one window into the New Orleans Police Department closes, another is opening.

Instead of just crimes and arrests, district commanders are now grilled on other statistics like compliance with that reform agreement, community policing and citizen complaints. Officials say that police reports feed into a central data warehouse in near real-time, allowing supervisors to identify problems on the go.

“Before MAX, we simply had to ask our supervisors to manage better and to do a better job, and hope that they did so. In some cases beg them to do a better job, and hope that they did so,” said Deputy Superintendent Paul Noel.

Now, Noel said, “we also look at other things that we never really focused on before such as our acceptance rates, our solve rates, our public integrity data.”

Most of those data streams now appear on a public website. At the same time, the Police Department has put the finishing touches on an early warning system for problem officers, which was launched Wednesday.

Morgan dubbed the new software and databases “a miraculous transformation.”

Emily Gunston, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney from Washington, D.C., said that when the consent decree process began she was told over and over that the NOPD could not make its databases work together to provide functions like the early warning system.

Gunston recalled that during the 2010 investigation of the department that produced a scathing report a year later, police brass were cooperative, but their records were a mess.

“What they provided to us was literally just boxes and boxes of paper. And when we tried to track down some information, there were some investigations of officer-involved shootings that nobody could locate,” she said.

On Thursday, all parties agreed that the Police Department has turned itself around by making many more of its reports electronic and by tying its databases together.

The kinds of efficiency and transparency measures that Thursday's hearing focused on are only a small part of the sweeping 2012 consent decree, however. Morgan made clear there is still much progress needed elsewhere.

She said the Training Academy is only “beginning to see the results” of reform efforts.

And after Noel gave a report on the Police Department’s community policing efforts — which were set back earlier this year when community relations officers were put back on patrol to help reduce response times — she also had cautious words.

“This is a slow process. It’s a difficult process, but we got a good start on it. I think all the things are going to come together,” she said.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432