By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
Even after reforms initiated in 2008 that were meant to reduce arrests, the city jail has been clogged with petty offenders housed at high cost, according to a report issued Thursday by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux.
Lending support to efforts to substitute citations for arrest of petty offenders and concentrate instead on more serious crime, the report also criticizes the city’s financial relationship with the Sheriff’s Office and calls for it to be overhauled, “based on a transparent budget and cost-effective operational practices.”
Despite greater detail in recent years, Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s budget remains opaque and mysterious.
Titled “City of New Orleans Arrest and Detention Policies for Non-Violent Misdemeanors and Traffic Offenses,” the report examines arrests from July 2009 through the end of that year. Among its findings:
•The city’s arrest rate in 2009 was more than three times the national average for cities with more than 250,000 inhabitants.
•36 percent of the 60,000 arrests made by the NOPD in 2009 were for municipal code violations or traffic offenses.
•The city paid the sheriff’s department more than $3 million in 2009 for detaining those individuals.
•More than 14 percent of the NOPD arrests in 2009 resulted from out-of-parish warrants for minor offenses, such as unpaid traffic fines.
•The City Attorney’s office did not adequately screen complaints and had not implemented diversion programs.
•The NOPD had not implemented a reporting system required by city ordinance for Municipal Code offenses.
•The funding mechanism for housing detainees at Orleans Parish Prison did not provide adequate accountability for the use of resources.
The jail funding arrangement, whereby the city pays Sheriff Marlin Gusman $22 a day per prisoner “provides a disincentive for the Sheriff to correct inefficient information systems that delay the release of some detainees,” the report says.
“If payment were based on actual costs, rather than a per diem, both parties would have the same incentives to develop cost-effective operating practices,” the report says. “Although the evidence indicates that the current per diem rate is inadequate, it would be imprudent for the City to blindly pay increased costs without increased budget transparency and assurances that funds are used appropriately.”
Quatrevaux’s report offers retrospective support for the city’s decision to reduce the number of arrests it makes for non-violent misdemeanors and traffic offenses. Reforms to the system have already saved millions of dollars and led to the incarceration of hundreds fewer defendants, according to the city.
The council voted in December to issue court summonses instead of arresting people for various minor crimes. Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas also vowed in November to stop arresting people on minor out-of-parish warrants because they tended to languish at Orleans Parish Prison without being collected by other parishes.
The report makes four key recommendations:
•Ensure that all police officers understand and comply with current policies regarding arrests for petty offenses, out-of-parish warrants and attachments.
•Improve screening and use of diversion programs and alternative sentences by City Attorney.
•Establish alternatives for enforcing Municipal Code offenses including decriminalization of some of them.
•Fund OPP operations at an appropriate level based on a transparent budget and cost-effective operational practices.
A draft of Quatrevaux’s report was provided to the NOPD, Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office, and the City Attorney’s office, according to Quatrevaux. Only the City Attorney’s office responded, saying that it has already enacted reforms to address many of the issues raised in the report.
Gusman’s office did not respond to a request for comment by The Lens.
Nor did former councilman James Carter who was hired recently as the mayor’s criminal justice czar. The request for Carter’s comment was made through Landrieu’s office.