Criminal Justice
 

Federal consent decrees have reformed police departments

The FBI has confirmed seven separate civil rights investigations into unjust NOPD conduct.

Seven.

It is a situation so shameful and so infuriating it is becoming difficult to find new ways to condemn it. Any officers responsible for acts of brutality should be punished and I hope that, finally, they will.

You could simply isolate the guilty officers and get them off of the force and into prison.

But I’m not sure people are buying the bad-apple argument anymore.

This is a pattern.

While police brutality is a problem many other cities, no city in America has experienced the level of nonsense that we have here in New Orleans.

It isn’t one bad cop or seven bad cops or even fifteen bad cops.

We have a bad police department.

The citizens of New Orleans deserve better and so do the honest police officers tainted by the shortfalls of their colleagues and superiors.

With at least seven open FBI investigations, it increasingly appears as though the U.S. Justice Department could easily build a case for a consent decree to officially monitor the NOPD.

I’ve mentioned the idea of a consent decree before.

In 1994, Congress granted authority to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to file civil lawsuits against police departments that exhibited a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional conduct in order to obtain a court order to eliminate the behavior. Whether it is through a consent decree or an agreement signed between the Justice Department and the locality under threat of a lawsuit, generally, the feds outline a series of reforms that the department must implement and provide for a federal monitor of the local police force.

If seven open investigations don’t constitute a pattern or practice, I’m not sure what does.

There are several examples of consent decrees in major metropolitan cities since the law was introduced, including Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

New Orleans has, unfortunately, had a negative experience with the HUD’s takeover of HANO but the Justice Department’s track record with consent decrees has been largely positive.

The first major city to experiment with a federal monitor was Pittsburgh in 1997, after the NAACP and ACLU compiled scores of complaints. Years later, the Justice Department conducted an extensive study to examine whether its consent decree there had been successful and how future monitor agreements could be improved.

You can read the whole thing here but the conclusion is as follows:

The overarching questions in Pittsburgh were: Can a reform process imposed on a local jurisdiction by a federal court succeed? And if so, could that process continue after the federal court withdrew? The simple answer to both questions is “yes.” It is clear that the requirements of the consent decree dramatically changed the culture of the Bureau of Police. It is also clear that the reforms remained in full force more than a year after most of the requirements of the decree were lifted. Officers and supervisors are accountable for their interactions with the public in a way that is qualitatively different from the situation that existed prior to the decree. Although officers continued to express resentment toward the city for agreeing to the decree, many acknowledged that the reforms did, in fact, increase police accountability. Administrators now have a powerful tool to monitor officer productivity as well as misconduct.

The report stresses the importance of unified embrace of the reforms by city officials and “the determination of the police chief to make the decree part of his own reform agenda.”

Speaking of police chiefs, Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s task force on the NOPD is charged with guiding the selection of the new police superintendent.

Aaaaand they’re holding a community meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the South West Club Claiborne Room at the Superdome to hear the public’s opinions on that important decision.

If you can’t make it, you can always just fill out their pithy survey.

It, naturally, doesn’t ask how important it is if the next police chief is determined to make a consent decree part of his or her reform agenda.

So if that is as important to you as it is to me, I’d suggest schlepping to the Dome tomorrow evening.

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