Federal oversight judge says NOPD back on track to reach consent decree compliance By:


By Missy WilkinsonThe Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

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NEW ORLEANS — After a period of backsliding that culminated in a bungled probe of a mayoral bodyguard’s timesheet violations, the New Orleans Police Department is back on track to achieve compliance with its decade-old reform agreement, according to a federal judge, court-appointed monitors and U.S. Justice Department attorneys.

“It’s clear that cooperation improved dramatically and progress accelerated dramatically over the past few months due to the hard work of people in the courtroom and other officers you work with,” U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan said. “Their efforts are paying off.”

The mood in Morgan’s courtroom was relatively convivial Wednesday afternoon at the first public hearing in more than a year on progress with the federal consent decree, and the first for NOPD Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick as the city’s top cop.

It was a stark contrast to the last series of hearings, where Morgan found the department violated 10 provisions of the consent decree in its internal investigation of Officer Jeffrey Vappie and his work for the mayor. Morgan ultimately declined to hold the city in contempt and accepted a remedial action plan.

Fulfillment of the plan’s 95 actions is among the steps necessary for the department to reach compliance with the consent decree and enter a period of stepped-down monitoring. Of those 95 items, a little under half are done.

“Our estimated time of completion is June 2024 ,” said Deputy Chief Nicholas Gernon, who along with Kirkpatrick crafted that plan.

Wednesday’s hearing signaled a pivot to cooperation with the monitors from the department under Kirkpatrick, whose last police chief’s job, in Oakland, California , also came with federal oversight of the department. For more than year before Kirkpatrick’s arrival last fall, Mayor LaToya Cantrell sparred with Morgan and the monitors, and the mayor challenged the judge’s ability to order city and police officials into public hearings.

Government attorneys on Wednesday lauded NOPD for ramping up its public internal audits from one published in 2017 to 23 put out last year. The area of stops, searches and arrests—one of the biggest pieces of the consent decree and an area most difficult to change, Gernon said—remained a trouble spot in 2017. But an audit last year found high levels of compliance.

Monitors verified that audit by reviewing 10 uses of force at random. They aim to do the same with the NOPD’s internal audit of its Office of Police Secondary Employment , which governs the NOPD’s lucrative paid detail gigs. The 2011 U.S. Justice Department report that spawned the consent decree described the NOPD’s detail system as an “aorta of corruption.”

An enhanced timesheet tracking system put in place last year prompted four formal disciplinary investigations, though “the complaints we receive now are mostly old violations,” said Public Integrity Bureau Deputy Chief Keith Sanchez at the hearing.

“Some people outside this courtroom have criticized NOPD as being in disarray,” said lead monitor Jonathan Aronie, in what appeared to be a rebuttal to Gov. Jeff Landry’s recent assertion that the department is “in shambles.”

“While the NOPD has work to do, the NOPD is most definitely not in disarray,” Aronie added. “They have proven over the last decade that a police department can respect constitutional rights and fight crime.”

However, Stella Cziment, the city’s independent police monitor, said she sensed a disconnect at the hearing between federal monitors’ glowing assessment of the NOPD and feedback she gets from civilians, who are the most affected by policing, she said.

“Maybe we should ask, ‘Are federal monitors distracted?” Cziment said.

Cziment noted that deputy monitor David Douglass is also part of the monitoring team awarded oversight of Minneapolis Police Department’s freshly inked consent decree, which launches next month, according to the Star Tribune.

Morgan has set three more public hearings on consent decree progress, for March 21 , April 18 and May 16 , all at 10:00 a.m. in her third-floor courtroom at 500 Poydras St. People may also call in at (504) 229-4460 and enter the ID: 148 804 372#.


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