New Orleans Police Department leaders on Thursday told the federal judge overseeing the department’s reform process that they are doing more with less.
Top brass boasted that they have cut down on the time officers spend responding to false alarms, securing warrants and driving to gas stations in order to free them for real police work at a time when the force is dealing with depleted rolls.
Thursday's hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan was the latest in a series of rosy updates on the state of the department, which is now nearly six years into a consent decree with the federal government to reform the force and end unconstitutional practices.
Morgan, court-appointed monitors, the Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice have all expressed confidence that the NOPD is making progress toward implementing the goals of the 2012 federal consent decree.
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Yet even though Morgan commended the Police Department for streamlining mundane tasks that ate up officer time, there was no sign that she intends to release the department from federal oversight soon.
Many of the efficiencies implemented over the past few years aren’t directly mandated by the lengthy consent decree, which was motivated by notorious incidents of police brutality and corruption following Hurricane Katrina. However, federal monitor Jonathan Aronie said efficiencies were “inherent” in the consent decree’s passages on constitutional policing.
Among recent changes were a false alarm ordinance, which penalizes home and business owners who repeatedly allow burglar alarms to consume officers' time for no reason; a special unit to take reports on minor crimes over the phone or the internet; and electronic warrants for officers on the road.
Morgan emphasized that residents must register their alarms under the ordinance.
The department has also created 50 new civilian positions since Police Superintendent Michael Harrison became chief in 2014. Many of those free up officers to get back to the streets, officials said.
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“It costs a lot more to train an officer than it does to hire a civilian. There are things like officers maintaining the cars and all kinds of things that it should not have been an officer doing the job," Morgan said.
Harrison said he thinks the changes will help a force which shrank by hundreds of officers after Mayor Mitch Landrieu instituted a temporary hiring freeze starting in 2010 because of budget problems.
“It can help, especially when we show officers that we care about them,” Harrison said. “Of course, we want to relieve the fatigue factor and the burden of having to provide police services for a city that used to have a deployment with hundreds more officers.”
Harrison has said he hopes to reach “substantial compliance” with the consent decree by May, when Landrieu leaves office and new Mayor LaToya Cantrell may appoint a new police chief.
Achieving “substantial compliance” would mark the end of intensive monitoring of the department.
Harrison still hopes to hit the mark, although the federal monitors have pointed to dozens of areas where improvement is still needed.
Monitors said in one December report that beat cops struggle to handle domestic violence calls, often downgrading them or waiting too long to respond to them.
“We’re certainly working toward that,” Harrison said of the May goal. “Let’s keep in mind this is the most comprehensive and robust consent decree in the history of the country.”
Last year, a New Orleans police officer fired a stun gun at the head of a fleeing suspect, who immediately went into a seizure.