New Orleans officials filed a motion on August 16 seeking to end federal oversight of its police department after a decade.
The New Orleans Police Department has been under a court-supervised consent decree negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2013.
The consent decree was the outcome of a 2011 DOJ investigation into police shootings of civilians in the city during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
City officials filed its motion to end the federal oversight and terminate the decree a day before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan scheduled a hearing to review the status of the agreement.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Police Chief Shaun Ferguson publicly called for terminating the agreement, which they described as a “bureaucratic burden” on a department struggling with manpower shortages during the pandemic and a time of rising violent crime.
City attorneys argued that the conditions of the consent decree have, for the most part, been satisfied.
“Any systemic violations of federal law were remedied years ago,” a memo accompanying the filing read. “It is undeniable that NOPD has substantially and materially satisfied the constitutional goals of the decree in good faith, and eliminated the systemic violations of federal law identified by the DOJ’s 2011 investigation.”
Civil rights attorney and police reform advocate Bill Quigley was skeptical of the city’s statements. “The City says we are fully compliant, or if we are not we are mostly compliant, or if we are not it is not that important,” he said in an email, per the Associated Press. “This is life and death and liberty at stake here. Our community cannot afford to have ‘sort of’ constitutional policing.”
Police accountability experts have acknowledged that the city has made substantial progress under the consent decree. Morgan also praised the city’s progress earlier this year but did not terminate the agreement, citing continuing problems such as the department’s low recruitment and allegations of misconduct by officers working private-duty details.
The department is pushing to end the consent decree amid a critical staffing shortage. The ranks have dwindled to well under 1,000 officers — down more than 1,300 officers a few years ago. Cantrell said the decree adds to the workload of an already short-staffed department.
Police Captain Michael Glasser, who heads the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) union, concurs, stating that reporting to the DOJ requires a level of detail and redundancy that is overburdening officers and, as a result, is negatively affecting the department’s morale.
Glasser added that the consent decree is, in the eyes of officers, last on the list of most important concerns. He said that the rank and file are most concerned with the overzealous “public integrity bureau” — the police internal affairs agency that PANO accused of using false information against officers in past misconduct investigations — as well as a slow promotion process.