NEW ORLEANS — Leaders from the Community United for Change called on U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan on Wednesday to keep the New Orleans Police Department bound to a federal consent decree and not give into the city’s pleas to end it now. The Police Department has been subject to the mandates in the consent decree since 2013.
Two years before then the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report on NOPD that said that “too many officers of every rank either do not understand or choose to ignore the boundaries of constitutional policing.”
A June 24 special report from the consent decree’s federal monitor lauds the NOPD’s progress but, the activists said, that report failed to address several other deficiencies. The CUC drafted its own report in response and unveiled it at a press conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in New Orleans.
The CUC has been closely monitoring the progress of the New Orleans Police Department the entire time it has been subject to the consent decree.
Member W. C. Johnson said the special report has emboldened New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell and Police Chief Shaun Ferguson to call for an end to the consent decree without NOPD becoming fully compliant with the promises it made under the agreement.
“The report that was issued is disturbing,” Johnson said. “The police are still rolling on as they did prior to the findings from the Department of Justice in 2011. This is unacceptable.”
Malcolm Suber, also with CUC, pointed to recent troubling incidents from the police such as the spate of false arrests and unconstitutional searches, some which were captured on video, by officers of the French Quarter task force.
“The consent decree calls for the constitutional policing of New Orleans,” Suber said. “We have not reached that plateau, and therefore we don’t accept the mayor’s argument that what we’ve got is good enough.”
Cantrell argued that the city has “moved very closely to satisfying” the NOPD consent decree.
This is not a matter of a few bad apples. This is a bad orchard, and you can’t just take out an orchard and replant it and expect it to bear good fruit overnight – Bill Quigley, attorney for CUC
However, seven years is simply not enough to fix a department that has harbored incompetence and racism for decades, said CUC attorney Bill Quigley.
“The NOPD has been dysfunctional and racist and unconstitutional for decades,” Quigley said. “This is not something that’s new. This is something that has been going on for decades.”
The mayor also argued that the cost of continuing under the NOPD consent decree is too high.
“We have spent $55 million if you want to call it what it is,” Cantrell said in a roundtable discussion last month. “Get the bear out of our pocket and allow us to meet the needs of our people.”
But the mayor’s financial argument holds no water, Quigley said, because the city was spending millions to defend and settle cases of police abuses for many decades before the federal investigation even began.
“This is not about money,” Quigley said. “Even then, you have to say, the constitutional right to be safe, to be protected and treated fairly in according with the constitution — you can’t put a price on that.”
The CUC also pointed out that one of the promises the city has failed to fulfill under the agreement is the establishment of a citizen review committee that has actual input and authority in the monitoring (watchdog) process. After seven years of federal monitoring, civilian input has been limited to a few handpicked people with no grassroots experience and no immediate connection to the victimized, mostly Black, communities.
Civilians have been invited to periodic listening sessions where they are given a chance to speak, however, no real action has been taken on their input, Suber said.
“The citizens ought to have a direct voice in this,” Quigley said. “The citizens are the people who have been victimized by the police. The citizens are the ones to whom the police should be accountable.”
The CUC members said an ideal review committee would be comprised mostly of citizens chosen by the community and would have authority equal to that given to the government agencies involved in the watchdog process.
The current federal watchdog is a firm in Washington D.C. whose monitors have been commuting to New Orleans.
“As our organization has said from the beginning: This is not a matter of a few bad apples,” Quigley said. “This is a bad orchard, and you can’t just take out an orchard and replant it and expect it to bear good fruit overnight or even a couple of years. It has gone back decades. It’s going to take a long time to turn this around.”