U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in New Orleans last month to announce the federally supervised changes to the New Orleans Police Department. Photo by Tom Gogola

Four organizations seeking greater involvement in the implementation of the recently signed federal consent decree regarding the New Orleans Police Department took their case to U.S. District Court today.

In a courtroom packed with criminal-justice advocates, the Police Association of New Orleans, the Fraternal Order of Police, Community United for Change and the Office of the Independent Police Monitor presented oral arguments to Judge Susie Morgan.

Each group claimed to have been cut out of the negotiations between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that produced the wide-ranging agreement.

The complainants also said they want to have a bigger hand in the consent decree’s rollout, and they went to court today to seek  “intervenor status” from Morgan that would create a new round of negotiations before the agreement is implemented.

The Fraternal Order of Police has argued that while officers understood the need for change at the police department, those same officers were cut out of negotiations regarding mandates that affect their jobs.

Their attorney, Ted Alpough, charged that the city and Department of Justice were trying to “ram this down the throats of officers without their input.”

Bill Quigley, representing the criminal-justice activist organization Community United for Change, said the city is about to lose out on an opportunity to settle its decades-long struggle with unconstitutional policing practices, shoddy training, and rampant brutality on the force.

“We have too much invested to not do it right,” Quigley said. “We want this to work.”

“We do object to the consent decree,” Quigley added. “It’s too little, too weak, and will not have the opportunity to be successful.”

Quiqley, a Loyola University law professor, said the decree’s implementation is likely a foregone conclusion, but he urged Morgan to give intervenor status so Community United could fight for a role that was more than just advisory.

The Office of Independent Police Monitor has said its role as a civilian police watchdog was watered down in the consent decree. The monitor’s office was created in 2009 and works under the aegis of the city’s Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christy Lopez strongly cautioned against re-opening the nuts-and-bolts of the consent decree for another round of negotiation, insisting that it would further delay much-needed policy changes at the New Orleans Police Department that most everyone agreed are necessary and long overdue.

She was especially concerned that the police organizations would use the process to “turn the consent decree into a giant collective bargaining agreement” for the police affected by its mandates.

Lopez added that the decree actually sought to strengthen the Office of Independent Police Monitor.

The decree, she said, was “far more expansive in scope and depth than other decrees” the government had hammered out with other police departments.

Morgan didn’t hear rebuttal arguments today, and encouraged the organizations to file amicus briefs with the court in case their efforts to achieve intervenor status failed.

The next consent decree hearing is Aug. 29.

Morgan told the lawyers to file their amicus briefs, and any other supplemental materials, by Friday at 4 p.m.

Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New...