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Consent decree judge praises NOPD for reform progress

“Problem-based” training, real-time inspections and multiple audits have resulted in major improvements in traffic stop interactions, according to the NOPD’s presentation


The department presented figures showing sharp declines since 2019 in complaints of officer misconduct during stops and searches, and in the number of sustained complaints.

Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP

By John Simerman
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Police Department has made big strides in recent years to prevent unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, according to U.S. Justice Department lawyers and the federal judge overseeing NOPD reforms at a congratulatory hearing on Thursday.

Led by Deputy Chief Nicholas Gernon, New Orleans police officials took turns presenting U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan with the department’s efforts to intensively monitor and correct problems in officers’ interactions on the street or in vehicle stops.

Those safeguards include “problem-based” training, real-time inspections and multiple audits that they said have resulted in major improvements. The department presented figures showing sharp declines since 2019 in complaints of officer misconduct during stops and searches, and in the number of sustained complaints.

The court-appointed monitors who report to Morgan audited those findings and lauded NOPD on a key remaining area where the department had lagged in reaching compliance under the decade-old reform agreement with the Justice Department.

Fulfilling the consent decree’s demands on stops, searches and arrests has required many other areas of the sprawling reform agreement to fall in place first, such as training, policy, supervision and auditing, Gernon said.

“The people who want to get it right, when you show them what they did wrong, they self-correct,” Gernon said. “For those that don’t, we have other mechanisms in place.”

End is near?

The endorsement of those efforts on Thursday from Morgan, the monitors and DOJ marked the clearest signal yet the city may soon gain her approval to enter a 2-year offramp from federal oversight.

Morgan called the progress on stops, searches and arrests “really a remarkable turnaround.”

Arusha Gordon, a Justice Department lawyer, said the government’s most recent review “did not identify any glaring constitutional issues, and there is a trend toward better compliance.”

“We believe NOPD has shown progress,” she added. “The sustainment period will allow us to ensure progress is durable.”

Jonathan Aronie, the lead monitor, said the low numbers of sustained complaints against NOPD officers over stops would normally draw suspicion.

“These low numbers are a good thing,” he said. “The reason we know is, we checked.”

Timeline unclear

Just how far the department remains from entering the sustainment period remains uncertain, though the tone in Morgan’s courtroom Thursday was at its most communal in almost two years.

It’s been that long since Morgan was last poised to deem NOPD in substantial compliance with the consent decree, among the nation’s most wide-ranging policing reform agreements.

But Morgan and the monitors soon yanked the reins, finding a steep loss of officers during the pandemic had hamstrung progress and led to backsliding in some areas.

That prompted a sharp reaction from Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who then fought in court to limit Morgan’s authority, and to exit the consent decree.

The monitor’s annual report for 2023, released this week, describes a city and NOPD brass that refused to cooperate for the year’s first eight months, setting the department back on compliance.

The report cites renewed progress with the arrival of Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick in September.

‘Bumps in the road’

Kirkpatrick came from the West Coast with experience that included a 3-year stint as police chief in Oakland, California, leading a police force that also operated under federal court watch.

But Gernon and other NOPD officers described a much longer, department-wide push to improve on stops, searches and arrests — an area the Justice Department found laden with unconstitutional practices in the 2011 report that sparked the consent decree.

Among those safeguards now are swift inspections and layered audits that police officials said result in swift re-training or discipline of officers if needed.

“There certainly were bumps in the road to get here, and candid, there are going to be other bumps,” Aronie said. “NOPD isn’t perfect. That’s why we focus on the structure. We see this structure as being durable.”

Morgan portrayed the NOPD as an agency now willing to admit to its mistakes and correct them. It marked a dramatically different tone than one on display last year, when she found the department had violated several areas of the consent decree in its internal investigation of mayoral bodyguard Jeffrey Vappie.

“Rather than running away from problems, NOPD now faces them,” Morgan said.

Louisiana State Police arrive

The judge had less glowing words for Louisiana State Police and its launch of Troop NOLA, a unit dedicated to New Orleans.

Morgan noted that LSP doesn’t fall under the consent decree, or her purview, but said she is watching it nonetheless and lacks clarity on the rollout, or how Troop NOLA will work with the police force.

“Often the leadership of the State Police have been giving confusing and contradictory information, and in my opinion that’s not a good start to this relationship,” Morgan said.

“While no one would suggest the people of New Orleans and the NOPD do not want the additional help,” she added, “it likewise is true no one wants to return to the practices that brought about the consent decree in the first place.”

A State Police spokesperson said in a statement Thursday that plans for Troop NOLA remain in progress but that troopers in the meantime have been assisting the NOPD’s Violent Crime Abatement Investigations Team on “proactive patrols and investigative efforts.”

“In the coming months, Troop NOLA will mirror the structure and operations of the other nine State Police Troops throughout Louisiana ,” LSP’s statement read. “Our collaboration with the New Orleans Police Department will be instrumental in combating crime on a citywide scale.”

Morgan has set two further public hearings over the NOPD reforms, for April 18 and May 16.


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