Moral Low Ground


Justice Dep’t Report Slams New Orleans Police

A US Justice Department investigation and report requested by local officials has slammed endemic misconduct by the New Orleans Police Department, including excessive use of force, unconstitutional searches and arrests, discrimination and corruption.

“Our findings show that the problems facing the NOPD are wide-ranging, systemic and deeply rooted in the culture of the department,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez declared.

This grievous misconduct, while exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and exemplified by the post-Katrina shooting deaths of unarmed black residents by NOPD officers at the Danziger Bridge, has been going on for a very long time. “As devastating as Hurricane Katrina was, our investigation has revealed that these serious deficiencies existed long before the storm,” Perez, who works in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, wrote to New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu.

According to the report, NOPD officers were too quick to use excessive force and too often failed to properly document such actions afterward. Officers used violence against citizens, even some in handcuffs, not only when unnecessary but also in circumstances deemed “deliberately retaliatory.” “Officers even encourage each other to use force as retaliation,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune quotes the report as saying. The report slams the NOPD’s internal investigations of officer-involved shootings and prisoner deaths, finding “blatant and egregious” mishandling of probes that seems “intentional.”

The report was also hard on NOPD policing tactics, including a “pattern of stops, searches and arrests” that violate the Fourth Amendment. Arrests disproportionally targeted black residents. This discrimination also extended to the use of deadly force: in all 27 cases in which officers fired guns at suspects from January 2009 to May 2010, the person shot at was black.

Discrimination isn’t limited to blacks, though. Gay and transgendered people are targeted for arrests as well, the report found, and language deficiencies hinder crime-fighting in Vietnamese and Latino communities. The investigation of domestic violence and sexual assault were also faulted in the report.

The city has already began reform efforts. “Since taking office in May, we have taken concrete steps to make our city safer and turn around the NOPD,” said mayor Landrieu in a statement. “Now we have the full weight of the federal government behind our reforms and crime-fighting efforts. We can and must turn this around.”

And not a moment too soon.


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