New Orleans Police officers can no longer arrest people who commit low-level offenses and must instead issue them a court summons, according to a new ordinance adopted by the New Orleans City Council on Thursday.
Council members unanimously approved the ordinance, which requires NOPD officers to issue a summons in lieu of making an arrest for misdemeanor and some other non-violent crimes such as solicitation of prostitution, disturbing the peace and others. It provides exceptions for certain circumstances and offenses such as assault, battery, illegal possession of stolen things and resisting an officer, among others.
“A majority of this ordinance I do agree with, and I can work with,” NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson said. “In some instances I still have some apprehension and concerns with regard to taking the discretion of an officer away…Are we talking about an individual who is in possession of a stolen gun, we should be issuing that individual a summons?”
Councilman Jason Williams, who was just elected district attorney of Orleans Parish, authored the new policy alongside the City Council Criminal Justice Committee, which he chairs. He pointed out that possession of a stolen firearm is almost always a felony and listed as an exception to the ordinance. Also, the ordinance does not take away an officer’s discretion to make an arrest based on what the officer observes at a scene, Williams said.
Williams’ reassurance seemed to allay the chief’s concerns.
“That’s all I’m asking,” Ferguson said.
The ordinance came at the urging of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), a grassroots organization that advocates for improving conditions and reducing the number of inmates confined at the parish prison.
In April, as COVID-19 numbers in New Orleans were sky high, OPPRC exchanged letters with Chief Ferguson and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, urging them to adopt a new policy that would reduce arrests of non-violent offenders.
“Unnecessary arrests for low-level offenses don’t keep us safe,” the OPPRC said in a press release Thursday. “We commend the New Orleans City Council for prioritizing community safety instead of over-policing residents with the passage of this ordinance.”
Williams participated in his last meeting as a councilman on Thursday before he steps into his new role as district attorney.