The New Orleans Police Department has overhauled its policies since a 2012 reform agreement with the federal government, but it must still overcome “challenging” obstacles to put the new policies into practice on the streets, according to a recent report issued by federal monitors.
The report praises Police Superintendent Michael Harrison but also makes clear he has no chance of meeting his goal of fulfilling all of the terms of the reform pact, called a consent decree, by the time Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell is sworn into office on May 7. Whether Cantrell will keep Harrison as superintendent is unknown.
The monitors have never set a timeline for how long they expect to continue supervising the Police Department. The latest report, which covers the year 2017, is no exception.
“NOPD has made significant progress, but ensuring the changes NOPD has made result in real, measurable and sustainable constitutional policing cannot be rushed,” the monitors said.
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The report provides an overview of the progress the department has made toward reform, as well as the work the monitors did last year.
Despite the warning about rushing the process, the report strikes many positive notes. It says the heavy lifting is over on creating dozens of new policies dictating how officers should handle everything from car chases to abandoned boats. The monitors expect all the policies to be finished this year.
The department also impressed the monitors with improvements at its Training Academy. Mayor Mitch Landrieu cut the ribbon on a new academy building in September. The monitors said the changes were more than skin deep: The NOPD also shaped up its lesson plans and gave instructors more training.
There are still lots of problems when officers hit the streets, however. NOPD officers may be violating the law or departmental policy about 20 percent of the time when stopping, searching and arresting civilians, according to a review of body-worn camera videos. The monitors said they will release more details from that study soon.
When cops shoot at suspects or use other kinds of force, a specialized Force Investigation Team created by the consent decree does thorough investigations, the monitors said. But despite the effort invested in the unit, its detectives too often ask leading questions of fellow cops, the watchdogs said.
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The monitors also highlighted their December report on how patrol officers handle domestic violence cases. The monitors said they found problems in 67 percent of the calls to 911 about domestic violence incidents that they reviewed, including officers who downgraded the seriousness of cases.
However, the monitors said the NOPD has created a credible plan to fix its ways. It has changed the way domestic violence cases are coded in a computer dispatch system, implemented better training and started disciplinary proceedings against problem officers.
Harrison in particular was quick to act, the monitors said.
“Notably, Superintendent Harrison was candid and straightforward regarding what needed fixing and what steps the department planned to take. His frankness is noteworthy and, in itself, highlights how far the Police Department has come since the entry of the consent decree in 2012,” the monitors said.
In a statement, Harrison said he was pleased with the progress documented in the report.
“There remains work to be done, but I am confident our officers and our leadership team will continue to meet every benchmark set for success, and ultimately bring our department into full compliance in record time,” Harrison said.
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