Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

The New Orleans Police Department is ending the use of “informational vehicle checkpoints” that were announced last week, NOPD spokesperson Ken Jones told The Lens late Wednesday. 

“The checkpoints stop tomorrow,” Jones said. “Tomorrow is the last one.” 

The NOPD announced the checkpoint program on April 20. According to a press release, they were used “to verbally provide information regarding the current stay-at-home order in place within Orleans Parish due to the current COVID-19 public health crisis” as well as check that vehicle occupants were wearing seatbelts and that drivers had a registration and proof of insurance.

The April 20 press release said the police department planned to continue the checkpoints until the end of the city’s stay at home order, which lasts until 6 a.m. on May 16. But Jones said they moved up the date to May 1 “because of the easing of restrictions in surrounding parishes.” 

Jones did not elaborate on which eased restrictions he was referring to or how they would affect the city’s informational checkpoints. Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to extend his statewide stay-at-home order through May 15. This week, he announced two areas where it will be loosened effective Friday, but only slightly: allowing people to eat at outdoor restaurant seating and allowing stores inside malls — which had been ordered closed — to reopen for curbside service. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has said she does not plan to change her current order — which prohibits both — to match.  

The use of the checkpoints drew criticism from advocacy and civil rights organizations. The ACLU of Louisiana called the checkpoints unconstitutional and said they run afoul of the federal consent decree over the NOPD. 

“We think the City’s ‘informational’ justification is a pretext, and also that the stops are counter to public health guidelines,” said Bruce Hamilton, an attorney with the ACLU. Hamilton said he was pleased to hear that the checkpoints were ending, and that the NOPD appeared to be listening to the concerns of the community. 

Sade Dumas, executive director of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, said a group of organizations had been working behind the scenes to end the checkpoints. 

“I’m encouraged to see that NOPD and the City have decided to listen to the demands of OPPRC and other organizations and advocacy groups that have been making our community’s outrage clear to New Orleans’ leaders for weeks,” Dumas said in a statement. “Unnecessary interaction between community members and law enforcement is without a doubt the wrong approach to tackling the disproportionate effect that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our community, and in fact makes things worse. Our leaders should take the same step in changing the NOPD arrest protocol to minimize person-to-person interactions in the interest of public health and safety.”

A Facebook group was created to monitor where the checkpoints were located

Jones said that no arrests were made and no tickets were issued during stops made at the checkpoints. 

On Twitter, the department announced that during the first day of the checkpoints that 923 vehicles had passed through, and 334 were stopped for seat belt checks and reminded of the stay-at-home order. They said that they were using a “non-random selection process to ensure bias free enforcement.” 

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...