The Lens has partnered with PolitiFact for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to see if President Barack Obama has followed through on his campaign promises about the storm and the city of New Orleans.
Pledge: Establish special crime programs for the New Orleans area
Will finish rebuilding the region’s criminal justice system so that we do not have to rely on the National Guard to patrol city streets..Will establish a special “COPS for Katrina” program to allow communities impacted by the storm to hire and retain new officers and community prosecutors, develop community-based crime fighting strategies, and rebuild their lost infrastructure… Will strengthen Drug Enforcement Administration efforts to stop the reestablishment of drug gangs across the region…Will help local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies come together to establish an integrated regional crime control partnership so that each police chief and sheriff doesn’t have to face these crime problems alone.
Ruling: Promise Kept
Violent crime increased 27 percent in New Orleans from 2013 to 2014. Its homicide rate consistently ranks it as one of the deadliest cities in the country. The New Orleans Police Department now employs about 1,150 officers, compared to more than 1,700 before Katrina.
However, the New Orleans Police Department is in the middle of a transition. And the Obama administration has done its share to aid the troubled department by offering money to hire officers, providing federal personnel and spearheading a sweeping reform program.
In the years after Katrina, the NOPD’s ranks swelled to nearly what they were before the storm — 1,546 sworn officers by 2009. But between 2010 and 2015, it lost about 400.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has criticized the federal government for curtailing its COPS program, which funds hiring of new officers.
However, the city has received COPS grants nearly every year since he took office in 2010, according to Department of Justice grant announcements. Between 2011 and 2014, the NOPD received nearly $7 million, supporting 50 officers.
It’s true that the NOPD is getting less than during the Clinton era. According to a 2010 report on COPS grants awarded to Louisiana agencies, the NOPD got about $6.3 million in 1995 and 1996 alone. That paid for more than 100 officers.
But the city is getting a lot more than it did under the Bush administration, which decreased funding for the COPS program. The NOPD didn’t get a single COPS hiring grant during Bush’s two terms in office. During that period, the city had far more officers than now.
In 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the federal government revived the program and gave the city $2.5 million.
The problem with police department staffing was the city budget. When Landrieu came into office, he inherited a massive deficit from his predecessor Mayor Ray Nagin. He responded with a citywide hiring freeze and furloughs for city employees.
Police pay raises were put on hold until late 2014, when officers saw their first across-the-board increase in eight years. For several years, the city lost more officers to attrition than it hired.
Meanwhile, federal agencies have continued to partner with local law enforcement. A previous update on this pledge mentioned the Violent Crimes Task Force, which started in 2009. Since then, the Multi-Agency Gang Unit has been created, a partnership between the police, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, DEA, ATF and several other local and federal agencies.
FBI agents now assist in internal investigations at NOPD, working directly with officers in the Public Integrity Bureau. In July, the FBI deputized three police officers to assist in federal investigations of civil rights violations by the police department. The FBI has also trained and certified police academy instructors.
The most important initiative undertaken by Obama’s Justice Department isn’t part of this campaign pledge: the sweeping reform of the police department brought about by a federal lawsuit over police abuses.
At Landrieu’s urging, the Justice Department conducted an investigation of the police department and identified widespread constitutional violations, including corruption, discrimination and police brutality.
In 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a proposed reform package, calling it the most wide-ranging police consent decree in history. The agreement covers nearly every aspect of local policing, from the use of force to off-duty assignments for officers.
The reforms mandated by the consent decree are a financial burden on the city — more than $50 million over five years. Still, if it works as intended, it will make a long-troubled police force more effective and responsive to the public.
Between the consent decree, the numerous examples of federal assistance to local police and the COPS grants awarded on Obama’s watch, we rank this Promise Kept.
Gambit, “Paying for the Consent Decree,” Aug. 14, 2012
WVUE-TV, “Holder unveils NOPD reforms,” Aug. 7, 2012
Department of Justice, Investigation of the New Orleans Police Department, March 16, 2011
The Lens, “Live blog: Federal judge holding hearing to discuss NOPD consent decree,” Feb. 23, 2015
Federal Bureau of Investigation, “FBI Deputizes Three NOPD PIB Officers as Task Force Officers to Assist in Federal Civil Rights Investigations,” July 2, 2015
City of New Orleans, “Mayor Landrieu announces multi-agency gang unit of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to combat group violence,” Nov. 8, 2012
WWL-TV, “NOPD loses 2.5 times number of officers it has recruited this year,” July 8, 2014
The Times-Picayune, “New Orleans’ hiring freeze is not absolute, but there are reasons for the exceptions,” Nov. 14, 2011
The Times-Picayune, “New Orleans faces a $62 million deficit for 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu estimates,” June 21, 2010
USA Today, “10 years and $10B later, COPS drawing scrutiny,” April 10, 2005
The Lens, “Day 2 of 2016 budget town hall meetings in New Orleans,” July 14, 2015
The New York Times, “Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans?” July 30, 2015
The New Orleans Advocate, “At NOPD, mixed views on State Police presence in city,” Feb. 7, 2015
The New Orleans Advocate, “New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison tells City Council department ranks are no longer shrinking,” Aug. 1, 2015
The Lens, “Fact check: Drop in New Orleans homicides not as simple as Landrieu portrays,” May 14, 2014