One of the impacts of Katrina’s aftermath…
Justice Department officials on Thursday released the findings of a 10-month investigation into this city’s Police Department, revealing a force that is profoundly and alarmingly troubled and setting in motion a process for its wholesale reform.
The report describes in chilling detail a department that is severely dysfunctional on every level: one that regularly uses excessive force on civilians, frequently fails to investigate serious crimes and has a deeply inadequate, in many cases nonexistent, system of accountability.
Using the report as a guideline, federal and local officials will now enter into negotiations leading to a consent decree, a blueprint for systemic reform that will be enforced by a federal judge.
“There is nobody in this room that is surprised by the general tenor and the tone of what this report has to say,” said Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, at a news conference attended by city and federal officials.
But, added Mr. Landrieu, who publicly invited federal intervention in the Police Department just days after his inauguration in May, “I look forward to a very spirited partnership and one that actually transforms this Police Department into one of the best in the country.”
The city’s police chief, Ronal Serpas, said he fully embraced the report and would be going over its findings with senior leadership later in the day.
While the report describes an appalling array of abuses and bad practices, it does not address in detail any of the nine or more federal criminal investigations into the department. These inquiries have already led to the convictions of three police officers, one for fatally shooting an unarmed civilian and another for burning the body.
Justice Department officials chose to exclude the information gleaned in the criminal inquiries to keep a wall between those investigations and the larger civil investigation into the practices of the department. But there were more than enough problems left to uncover.
While other departments generally have problems in specific areas, like the use of excessive force, “New Orleans has every issue that has existed in our practice to date, and a few that we hadn’t encountered,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
The report reveals that the department has not found a policy violation in any officer-involved shooting for the last six years, though federal officials who reviewed the records found that violations had clearly occurred. The department’s canine unit was so badly mismanaged — the dogs were so aggressive they frequently attacked their handlers — that federal officials encouraged the department to suspend it last year even though the investigation was still under way.
The report details a record of discriminatory policing, with a ratio of arrests of blacks to whites standing at nearly 16 to 1. Calls for police assistance by non-English speakers often went unanswered.
The report also found that the police “systemically misclassified possible sexual assaults, resulting in a sweeping failure to properly investigate many potential cases of rape, attempted rape and other sex crimes.”