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DOJ Report Details New Orleans Police Misconduct

March 18, 2011  | 

The Department of Justice uncovered "systematic violations of civil rights" relating to use of force by New Orleans Police officers, the federal agency announced this week.

On Thursday, the DOJ released a 158-page report that details NOPD misconduct. The report concludes that officers routinely use excessive force and that the agency has failed to adequately investigate use-of-force complaints.

"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," Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said at a Thursday press conference. "Because of this, it has failed to provide the protection the people of New Orleans should expect from their police department. Our investigation revealed that poor policies, non-existent training and inadequate leadership have led to these systemic problems."

The DOJ investigation covered the period from January 2009 to May 2010. Patterns of misconduct in that time period indicate the NOPD "has long been a troubled agency," according to the DOJ. The report makes only passing mention of the criminal probes of officer misconduct during Hurricane Katrina, and instead covers civil matters.

The DOJ reviewed officer-involved shootings in the past two years, finding none were ruled as out of policy. In addition, department canines were "uncontrollable to the point where they repeatedly attacked their own handlers," a finding that resulted in the agency halting their use for apprehensions.

Use of force on subjects in handcuffs was often "retaliatory," according to the report, and use of force against mentally ill people was often not justified.

Often, NOPD supervisors don't enforce departmental reporting policies for force that can include arm twists, strikes with hands, strikes with a baton, pepper spray and TASER deployment.

The underreporting included the finding that in June 2010 only 34 reports were filed. That same month, officers made 6,787 arrests. Nationwide, officers tend to use force in 2%-5% percent of arrests.

Officer-involved shootings are investigated by the homicide division if a person is killed or injured. The Public Integrity Bureau investigates shootings if the officer misses or hits an animal or inanimate object. Officers involved in the first category of shootings were temporarily assigned to the Homicide Division. The agency then automatically deemed the statements officers provided to homicide investigators to be "compelled," effectively immunizing the use of these statements in any subsequent criminal investigation or prosecution.

"It is difficult to interpret this practice as anything other than a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult to criminally prosecute any officer in these cases," according to the report.

The report also criticized the agency's training, reported racial and ethnic profiling and said the agency's paid detail system may be the "aorta of corruption." Oftentimes, lieutenants and captains are requesting moonlighting work from the officers they supervise.

Read the full DOJ report on the NOPD.

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