New Orleanians deserve to know the truth about the federal consent decree.  Whatever it is.  We know the costs are staggering. But we don’t know how to get out of it.  Is there a federal consent decree guideline resource?  The consent decree has cost millions of dollars.  While you can’t put a price on lives the consent decree saved, you really can’t determine how many lives that is.  How do you measure effectiveness?

Consent decrees are good temporary measures to control police departments that show “a pattern or practice of conduct” that deprives people of their constitutional rights. The NOPD was a notoriously bad department.  The Danziger Bridge murders were the final straw.  After years of physically abusing citizens, the department entered a federal consent decree. The terms of the open-ended decree are specific to every area of the department.  There is even a termination section that basically says the DOJ and the city must agree to terminate the agreement.  If the DOJ objects, then the city has the burden of proof.  A federal judge must agree with the city that the NOPD is compliant with all the consent decree requirements.

But there are several issues inherent in this system. Most significantly is the lack of community input.  The consent decree is a legal agreement between the city and the DOJ.  This agreement is court run. In fact the agreement has a one way approach to community involvement.  It reports to the community.  This is not a two-way street.  The court does not hear from the community.  And the information the court provides to the community is limited in scope.  We get to hear whatever the judge wants us to hear. 

We just don’t know if the NOPD is better.  But it feels better.  There is much more transparency.  New Orleans does not have crazy dangerous police chases.  These often end badly.  Just two weeks ago, the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Department chased a stolen car from JP to New Orleans.  The stolen car crashed into an uninvolved motorist who was just driving home.  But a speeding car barreled into the car.  The uninvolved motorist was injured.  His car was totaled.  The stolen car was also totaled.  The assailants got away on foot.  Oh, and the JP police car was totaled after it crashed into the stolen car.  NOPD has not had a violent chase since they killed people and destroyed a thriving black owned beauty supply and salon. 

But comparing NOPD to the wild and unconstitutional actions of JP is useless.  The biggest issue with the current structure is that no meaningful community-based change can happen.  But the judge is neither swayed by the numerous controversial police shootings in JP or Mayor Cantrell’s claims of compliance to exit the consent decree.  The structure of consent decrees eliminates community input.  So real police reform does not happen during a consent decree.  In fact, these agreements only seek to solidify a constitutional police department.  So, training officers on mental health is not accomplished.  And sensitizing officers to the struggles of homelessness is impossible to impart.

Certainly, police misconduct is significantly reduced now.  But no meaningful police reform is even possible during the consent decree.  The only change is to ensure that constitutional guardrails define police conduct.  But no improvements in mental health training, new modern de-escalation techniques or meaningful bias reduction were ever possible.  The costs associated with the consent decree are a real concern for a poor city like New Orleans. But the fact that is still an old school police department is what we get after millions of dollars and over a decade spent. 

We need to be able to get a clear exit plan to start meaningful reform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.