The New Orleans Police Department is making progress in implementing reforms mandated by a consent decree, but not quickly enough for an outside monitoring team, according to a federal court hearing Thursday.
The hearing, the second of four scheduled for this year, focused on whether supervisors in the department exercise proper oversight of their officers on the streets.
Deputy Monitor David Douglass said the department’s progress in meeting the requirements is “inconsistent at best.” Those changes are meant to bring the department into compliance with the U.S. Constitution.
Douglass described a “widespread failure” by supervisors throughout the department to review their officers’ reports of uses of force and video recordings of their dealings with the public.
Douglass said supervisors are not making sure that interrogations are recorded as required. That’s often the result of broken equipment, he said. But officers and supervisors haven’t consistently reported equipment failure so they can be fixed or replaced.
“I don’t actually doubt the commitment to fix these things,” Douglass said.
“There are some supervisors out there who just don’t care,” he said. “There’s another, larger bucket, of supervisors who don’t understand how to be a good supervisors.”
And because of understaffing, some supervisors don’t have time to follow the rules.
Douglass said that supervisors — particularly sergeants — are sometimes responsible for more officers than the eight that department policy and the consent decree limit them to. That’s nowhere near the ratio of 1 to 20 noted in a 2011 Department of Justice report. But in some cases, a single sergeant is in charge of 10 or 12 officers, he said.
Another problem, he said, is that sergeants and lieutenants have so many time-consuming administrative tasks. The department requires supervisors to enter payroll information twice. When they need an extension on a disciplinary investigation, which is common, they must print a request and drive it to the Civil Service Department because it doesn’t accept them electronically.
Bob Bardy, the NOPD’s deputy superintendent of operations, said the department is aware of many of these problems. He said the department is working with the Civil Service Department to submit those extension requests electronically, and it may shift some administrative duties to civilians.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan appeared to be pleased with his answers.
“So we do two good things: We get more officers on the street and we lessen the duties of supervisors,” she said.
Still, she noted that she’s growing impatient with the slow pace of reform. Earlier this week, she set a new deadline for the department to meet its benchmarks on supervisory issues in the consent decree.
The order wasn’t part of the court file by Thursday afternoon, but Jonathan Aronie, the lead monitor for the consent decree, said it’s in July.
Asked what would happen if the police department fails to meet that deadline, he said Morgan “has a lot of tools at her disposal.”