The dozens of New Orleans Police Department recruits who are being counted on to inject new blood into a depleted force are being trained badly, leaving them to “mimic the practices of their predecessors,” according to the latest report from the court-appointed monitors overseeing a vast array of NOPD reforms mandated by a 2-year-old federal consent decree.
The future officers Mayor Mitch Landrieu has described as the “best and brightest” — the dozens of new hires funneling through recruitment and training to become New Orleans cops — have suffered from inadequate lesson plans, poor teachers and weak leadership in the academy, according to the quarterly report filed with the court on Friday.
Academy classes on ethics and domestic violence were especially poor, the monitors found.
“There is no room for a ‘that’s how we do things here’ attitude,” the report said. “The consent decree was imposed to change the way things are done here.”
At the same time, the monitoring team, led by the Washington, D.C.-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton law firm, found the department has made significant strides in implementing some areas of the massive, 492-point reform blueprint that Landrieu and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed in July 2012.
Among the accomplishments are recent gains in drafting new policies to mesh with the demands of the reform pact, which is slated to cost the city $55 million over its first five years.
Progress also was seen in the controversial new city-run system for managing paid off-duty officer details, despite reports of some cops taking moonlighting gigs off the city books, the report said.
Still, the monitors found the NOPD continues to come up well short in several other areas.
The 69-page report highlighted:
A “troubling failure” by the NOPD to follow its own policies on recording and investigating police use-of-force incidents.
A failure to keep track of whether interrogations at district stations were recorded and whether new policies designed to prevent rigging of photo lineups presented to witnesses are being followed.
Little progress on developing a plan to de-escalate potentially violent encounters with the mentally ill.
In that last category — crisis intervention — the department was out of compliance with nearly every requirement under the consent decree, including being nearly a year late in setting up a required planning committee, the report found.
‘A complete overhaul’
In a written statement, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison insisted that the department is committed to improving training and recently hired a curriculum developer to update lesson plans for both recruits and acting officers.
He said the new commander, Richard Williams, “is overseeing a complete overhaul of the unit, and we’re collaborating with Tulane University and other law enforcement agencies to put quality instruction in place.”
Harrison said the FBI will train and certify adjunct instructors starting next year.
The criticism of the NOPD’s Training Academy follows a resolution passed by the City Council last month urging the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to agree to raise a cap on each academy class from 30 to 50 cadets, to help loosen a potential bottleneck as a year-old police recruiting drive hits its stride.
“By increasing class size from 30 to perhaps 50 or larger, we feel confident that the instructors that we have right now are able to deliver quality training,” Harrison said in urging the council to endorse the change.
To many New Orleanians, the influx of new officers can’t come fast enough, with departures from the force continuing to reduce the size of an NOPD that is now about 30 percent smaller than it was four years ago, when the mayor instituted a hiring freeze to help narrow a massive budget gap.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said manpower in the department has slipped to 1,090 commissioned officers, down from 1,546 in 2009. Fewer than 1,000 of those officers are actively working, according to NOPD figures.
This month, the first academy class of the year graduated, with another class of 29 still in training and a third class slated to start early next year. The 2015 budget includes money for another five classes with a total of 150 recruits — the same figure that the administration fell short of fulfilling this year.
“We have a healthy pipeline of persons applying to be New Orleans police officers, and if we can fill a class of 50, I think we should. It’s certainly better than making these young men and women wait and possibly losing them to other departments or careers,” said Melanie Talia, director of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, which has supported the all-out recruiting effort. “I don’t think a class of 50 will take away from the attention given the cadets.”
Yet the monitor found that attention was less than stellar in several areas.
Recent changes, including a switch in the academy commander and the removal of underperforming instructors, bode well, the report said. But the monitoring team also found “nonexistent lesson plans” and instruction that was “substantively inadequate, not well presented and ineffective.”
The required training reforms were sparked by a U.S. Department of Justice report in 2011 that found the department’s training program was “severely deficient in nearly every respect.” That report said the police superintendent at the time, Ronal Serpas, “has prioritized the wholesale remaking of training in his organizational strategy to improve NOPD.”
In the new report, however, the monitoring team chastised the department for what it sees as a lackadaisical approach to training.
City Councilman Jason Williams said he supports the move to larger academy classes but that improving the training regimen is equally key to fixing the force. He raised the specter of Antoinette Frank, the New Orleans police officer convicted in the murders of three people in 1995, as a warning about failing to properly vet and train future officers.
“If we don’t have a system in place to properly train our police officers, we’re going to double the problem,” Williams said. “Having more bodies in place is not an answer to a crime problem.”
The federal monitors also reported on their assessment of the NOPD’s Sex Crimes Unit, home to four of the five detectives whose work from 2011 to 2013 was targeted in a blistering report last month by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office. The IG’s investigation found that most of the reported sex crimes assigned to the five detectives were dropped in the “miscellaneous” bin with no paper trail.
The consent decree had ordered a moratorium on those so-called “Signal 21” classifications without a high-ranking supervisor’s approval. Harrison acknowledged that the department “missed that mark.”
The monitors said the department has issued a directive barring use of the miscellaneous code but that it doesn’t go far enough to ensure compliance with the consent decree.
Many of the same problems raised by Quatrevaux’s report, and by several purported victims of uninvestigated rapes, were chronicled previously in the Justice Department report, which found oddly low reporting of forcible rapes in New Orleans compared with other cities, “grossly inadequate” supervision and “a focus on, and effort to, from the outset, ‘prove an allegation false.’ ”
According to the monitors’ report, “many of the shortcomings identified by DOJ persist.”
The report blamed heavy turnover in the Sex Crimes Unit, which has seen four different leaders in little more than a year, for some problems. Along with making it harder to institute change, the report found, the turnover at the top “reflects a lack of focus — or perhaps even a lack of commitment — to this critical topic by NOPD leadership.”
The monitoring team conducted an audit of the NOPD’s in-car cameras last quarter and found that nearly 30 percent of them didn’t turn on and another 22 percent either didn’t link to the server that can download recordings or else had reached their storage limit.
The audit found the worst problems in the 6th District, which includes the violence-plagued Central City. There, 10 of the 16 in-car cameras that the monitors checked didn’t work.
The report noted, however, that new city funding for technology should bring improvements.
Working car cameras, along with new body cameras that Serpas deployed early this year, are seen as crucial mechanisms for accountability on a police force long plagued by scandal and public mistrust.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.