The New Orleans Police Department has engaged in a wide-ranging pattern of misconduct, including excessive use of force and unconstitutional arrests, the Justice Department said Thursday.
In a lacerating report after an investigation requested by local officials, the Justice Department found that the police department had failed to adequately protect the city. There have been complaints about the department for years, but the difficulties peaked when unarmed people were shot during the tumult after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Our findings show that the problems facing the NOPD are wide-ranging, systemic and deeply rooted in the culture of the department," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
The report, requested by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu soon after he took office in 2010, blames a variety of factors, including inadequate supervision and ineffective methods of taking and investigating complaints. Landrieu has said he would welcome a federal consent decree ordering changes in police practices.
The city has started a number of reform efforts, including the restructuring of the department's leadership and, for the first time, the hiring of a civilian to lead its Public Integrity Bureau.
"Since taking office in May, we have taken concrete steps to make our city safer and turn around the NOPD," Landrieu said in a statement. "Now we have the full weight of the federal government behind our reforms and crime-fighting efforts. We can and must turn this around."
The Justice Department's investigation included interviews with police officers and supervisors as well as members of the public, city and state officials, and community leaders. More than 40 community meetings were held.
The Justice Department said it found patterns of unconstitutional conduct or legal violations in such areas as: excessive force; unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; racial and ethnic profiling; and discrimination against gays. It also said it found systemic failures "to provide effective policing services to persons with limited English proficiency" and "to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence."
"Our conclusions reveal that many NOPD officers have failed to live up to what we rightfully expect from our law enforcement officers," Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole said. "The overwhelming and undeniable facts discovered throughout this investigation show reasonable cause to believe that the New Orleans Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct. Because of this, it has failed to provide the protection the people of New Orleans should expect from their police department.