U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan signed off Friday morning on a long-anticipated federal consent decree aimed at reforming the New Orleans Police Department and, in a surprise move, the city of New Orleans immediately said it wants out from under it.

“The Parties’ proposed Consent Decree filed on July 24, 2012, is approved as amended,” wrote Morgan in her judgment, which followed a Friday morning status conference.

In a separate court filing, labeled “Order and Reasons,” Morgan said the city had “informed the Court that it intends to file a motion seeking relief from the judgment entered in connection with this order under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”

The city has until Jan. 31 to file a motion with Morgan saying why it should be released from the consent decree, which comes with an estimate price tag of up to $55 million to the city, according to past comments made by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

A Friday morning status conference at the Hale Boggs Federal courthouse featured a passel of lawyers from the city attorney’s office. After about an hour in Morgan’s chambers, they emerged and immediately headed for the elevators.

The consent decree was hammered out after over two years of negotiations between the city and the Department of Justice.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Landrieu said the city can’t pay for the NOPD consent decree at the same time it’s being asked to foot the bill for another consent decree aimed at reforming the Orleans Parish jail.

Landrieu put the price tag of the jail consent decree at $17 million, “which is not budgeted for this year and would therefore bankrupt the City. If a federal judge ordered the City to pay $17 million, we would need to furlough every City employee, including police officers, for 28 days. It makes no sense to furlough or lay off police officers to give pay raises to prison guards.”

He went on to say that the city is already addressing problems at the Police Department. “Come hell or high water, we will continue to reform the police department.”

After the police reform package was released in June, The Lens reported that the city wasn’t nearly as involved in negotiations for a consent decree at the Orleans Parish jail as it had been with the NOPD decree.

The Orleans Parish jail consent decree was unveiled late last year. The city didn’t sign on to it and claimed it wasn’t sufficiently involved in the talks when Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Department of Justice agreed to move forward on a reform plan for the jail late last year.

To implement the jail consent decree, Gusman asked the city for roughly $15 million beyond his typical annual budget. The city has repeatedly said it won’t write Gusman a blank check to pay for his mismanagement of the Orleans Parish jail.

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...