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New Orleans Police Department slammed by Justice Department

A U.S. Justice Department investigation, requested by local officials, finds a wide-ranging pattern of misconduct by New Orleans police, including the excessive use of force and unconstitutional arrests. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said he would welcome a federal consent decree ordering changes in police practices.

March 17, 2011|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

The New Orleans Police Department has engaged in a wide-ranging pattern of misconduct including the excessive use of force and unconstitutional arrests, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday.

In a lacerating report that followed an investigation requested by local officials, the Justice Department found the department had failed to adequately protect the city. There have been complaints about the department for years, but the difficulties reached a crescendo when unarmed people were shot in the wake of the tumult of 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," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, stated

The report, requested by 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 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 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.

"For far too long, the New Orleans Police Department failed to adequately protect the citizens of the city. This was a result of its failure to ensure respect for and adherence to the constitution," Cole said. "Today's findings should serve as a foundation not only to rebuild the police department, but to help restore the community's trust in fair, just and effective law enforcement."

michael.muskal@latimes.com

Twitter.com/LATimesmuskal

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