Not everything has gone right between the New Orleans Police Department and those who’ve taken to the streets to protest police brutality following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. The low point was the night of June 3, when NOPD officers fired tear gas and shot rubber balls into the crowd.
But there have been high points during this period as well, including a dramatic scene in which police knelt with protesters. And overall, the city hasn’t seen the ugly confrontations that have marked this period of street action elsewhere.
For that, and for other positive developments involving policing in recent years, a good bit of credit goes to the civil rights consent decree that the city entered with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Consent decrees emerging from “pattern and practice” investigations of local departments were a popular tool during the Obama years. Following some high-profile, horrific incidents just after Hurricane Katrina as well as years of widespread misconduct and civil rights violations, the feds and former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration negotiated a path toward reform, with court-appointed observers monitoring progress and a federal judge tracking compliance. Among the changes were a ban on chokeholds and de-escalation training for officers.
These agreements fell out of favor under President Donald Trump, but based on New Orleans’ experience and the shocking abuses coming to light in other cities, Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said recently that it would be a good idea to bring them back.
We agree. There’s still more do to, as a tough new report from the federal monitors suggests. But the NOPD has seen impressive progress since the agreement was reached in 2012.
Cassidy said he would support some tweaks, including safeguards against judicial overreach and limits on how much localities must pay to comply. But overall, he said the city’s experience shows the promise of such efforts.
The Republican bill Cassidy had talked of amending stalled in the Senate, but there’s support for the idea in the House bill proposed by Democrats. If reform legislation ultimately emerges from Congress, bipartisan backing for more federal intervention will be important.
Here, the idea already has support across parties, with some variations.
Landrieu, a Democrat, recently said that federal oversight of the department ensured that needed policy changes were made and carried out. But like Cassidy, he said any mandates shouldn’t break the local bank.
Despite the “defund” movement that’s gaining steam among some activists, he said line items such as training and monitoring actually cost more money, not less. Where Cassidy floated the idea of limits on required spending, Landrieu argued that the feds should cover the added expense. The two agree, though, that the result is worth it.
“If Minneapolis had had the intervention training that is now in New Orleans, George Floyd would not have died,” Cassidy said of consent decrees. “So it begs the question, why had the Justice Department not already looked at them?”