Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

The New Orleans Police Department achieved substantial compliance with the training academy section of its ongoing federal consent decree, a team of court-appointed monitors found. The consent decree, a federal court judgment, was approved in 2013 in an attempt to bring New Orleans policing in line with the U.S. Constitution.

“Academy and in-service training” was one of the 18 major sections of the consent decree that the NOPD must bring into “full and effective compliance” with the constitution and specific provisions included in the consent decree. With Tuesday’s news, the monitors have found that the department is in compliance with at least 11 out of those 18 sections. 

“I can’t even believe it’s the same organization,” said U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan, who is presiding over the consent decree, at a Tuesday court hearing. “I am just so happy to see what you’re doing now. I knew improvements could be made, I just didn’t know how much.”

The U.S. Department of Justice, which sued the NOPD in 2012 in order to formalize the consent decree, also agreed with the monitors.

The consent decree followed a Justice Department investigation into the NOPD in 2011. The investigation found “patterns of misconduct that violate the Constitution and federal law,” including racial profiling and the use of excessive force. It also found “systemic problems in training of every type.”

“The training NOPD has for the past several years provided to its officers is severely

deficient in nearly every respect,” the investigation found. “Our investigation found direct links between inadequate training and serious, systemic problems in use of force; stops, searches, and arrests; supervision; interacting with and building partnerships with members of the community; and racial, ethnic, and gender bias in policing.”

“In many ways the academy is the foundation of the department,” Morgan said on Tuesday.

The investigation also stated that Justice Department officials “found no disagreement that NOPD training is inadequate,” citing a survey that found that only 24 percent of NOPD employees believed they had access to adequate training. On Tuesday, lawyers for the Justice Department said that a more recent survey 55 percent of NOPD employees believed they had access to adequate training, while 22 percent strongly agreed. 

Presentations from the NOPD and the consent decree monitors painted a glowing picture of the progress made in the department’s academy. Tuesday’s hearing was a far cry from an earlier hearing, in 2015, that also focused on the police academy. At the time, the monitoring team said it found “significant shortcomings” with the department’s academy programs, with instructors who were unfamiliar with the curriculum and dated training materials. 

Lead monitor Jonathan Aronie, NOPD representatives and lawyers for the Justice Department touted the NOPD’s improved training curriculum, new standard operating manual, the establishment of a training advisory committee and the hiring of an academics director and a curriculum director. 

This was the first public hearing regarding the consent decree since January, when the consent decree monitors presented a “comprehensive reassessment” of the NOPD’s progress. Then, Aronie said that 10 our of 18 sections had come into compliance, including sections covering use of force and sexual assault investigations.

However, that left eight sections that still needed work, including Bias-Free Policing and Stops, Searches, and Arrests. But with full compliance for the academy, that number has been further whittled down. Both Aronie and Morgan said they hoped to bring more sections into compliance in the first few months of 2020. 

Specifically, Aronie said that three sections on community policing, recruitment and the department’s public integrity bureau were nearing full compliance. 

“I’m happy to report that while some work remains to be done, the police department does not have a long way to go,” he said. 

Aronie singled out the section on stops, searches, and arrests as a complicated area that still needs work. 

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...