In their most recent report, federal monitors pointed to NOPD’s response to a June protest, when they used tear gas against protesters as they tried to cross the Crescent City Connection, as evidence that the department still had work to do to get to full compliance with the consent decree. (Charles Maldonado/The Lens)

The federal monitor leading oversight of the New Orleans Police Department’s long standing consent decree said at a virtual meeting Tuesday that after nearly a decade, the department could be in full compliance with the agreement by July. After that, he said, the NOPD would enter into a “sustainment period” for two years before it could be lifted. 

“This cannot be taken as gospel, but this is what the parties and the monitoring team think is possible if the police department continues its efforts that it has shown,” Jonathan Aronie, the lead monitor, said at the meeting. 

But attorneys for the city have already indicated that they would like to be relieved of the millions of dollars in annual costs associated with the consent decree sooner than that, and have argued that the department has already been in “full and effective compliance” with the agreement for over two years. 

The consent decree, meant to bring the department into compliance with the United States Constitution, was put into place in 2013 following a Department of Justice investigation that found the NOPD regularly used force against individuals when it wasn’t justified, made unlawful arrests without probable cause, and discriminated against Black and LGBTQ individuals. 

In November, attorneys for the city filed formal notice with the U.S. The Department of Justice expressing their belief that NOPD was in full compliance with the consent decree — the first step prior to making a formal request to the court for an end to the agreement —  and said that the insights from the monitors  “are a luxury that the City can no longer afford.” 

“Against all odds, NOPD has become the premier reform agency in the country,” the notice read. “At the same time, it remains under the same level of constant monitoring by a team of consultants at substantial cost to the local taxpayers as when the Consent Decree was instituted eight years ago.”

The monitors cost the city on average $115,000 a month for their services, according to the notice. 

In the notice, the city argued that the monitors seem to be only focusing on one definition of “full and effective compliance,” which requires “sustained compliance with all material requirements” of the agreement. But the agreement says that full and effective compliance can also be defined as  “sustained and continuing improvement in constitutional policing,” which the city says they have achieved.

“Based on the public reports of the Federal Monitors, it is beyond debate that the NOPD has, even under the strictest interpretation, demonstrated sustained and continuing improvement in constitutional policing through durable methods that will maintain constitutional compliance,” attorney’s for the city wrote in the November notice.

But while there was no explicit discussion of the city’s November notice at the meeting, it did not appear that the monitors or attorney’s with the DOJ were willing to terminate the agreement prior to determining that the department had come into full compliance with each of the provisions of the consent decree, and sustained them for 2 years. 

“There are still some areas that aren’t in full and effective compliance, and that requires NOPD’s dedicated attention to move them forward,” Aronie said. “We think we can do it. And that’s why we’re working together to map out what that sustainment period looks like.” 

The provisions of the consent decree state that if the City and the DOJ do not agree on the status of the department’s compliance, the city can file a motion to terminate the agreement. The DOJ would then have an opportunity to object. If they did, a hearing would be held on the motion, and the court would make a ruling.

A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to questions regarding if and when the city might file a motion to terminate the consent decree. 

In their most recent report, released in February, the consent decree monitors said that the department had come a long way since the early 2010s, when NOPD was one “of the most dysfunctional and, many would say, corrupt, police agencies in the country.”  In many respects, the monitors said, NOPD was a “changed agency.’

But the report concluded that five sections of the consent decree still required additional attention by the department:  supervision; performance evaluations and promotions; stops, searches & arrests; bias-free policing; and community engagement. And it pointed to recent controversies related to questionable arrests made by an 8th District task force, and the use of tear gas on protesters attempting to cross the Crescent City Connection over the summer.

Still, at the meeting on Tuesday, all the parties struck a mostly congratulatory tone at the progress the department had made — particularly with regards to recruitment and internal investigations, which were both moved into full compliance by the monitors in their most recent report. 

While the meeting was open for public viewing, there was no open question or comment period. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who oversees the consent decree litigation, said on Tuesday the monitors would be holding another meeting in the near future where the public would be able to ask questions. 

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...