NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A federal investigation of the New Orleans Police Department found “disrespectful conduct in the community, corruption, unnecessary uses of force, and improper stops and searches,” stemming from systemic failures in policy, training, supervision and oversight. In 2009, the NOPD arrested 500 black men and eight white men for serious offenses, and the canine unit was so mismanaged the dogs regularly attacked their handlers, the Justice Department reported.
The report found numerous instances of legal violations, in some instances because the laws are convoluted, outdated, or police didn’t know them.
Just 24 percent of NOPD officers feel they have enough training, the investigation found.
The report recommends the department try to recruit highly qualified, capable officers.
“NOPD’s longstanding failure to prioritize the recruitment of high-qualified candidates contributes to the chronic, department-wide problems we observed, including inappropriate and disrespectful conduct in the community, corruption, unnecessary uses of force, and improper stops and searches. We found NOPD’s recruitment program to be anemic, entirely passive, and lacking clear goals, plans, or accountability,” the report said.
The investigation found that officers were rarely disciplined for use of excessive force; that officers regularly fail to articulate the facts to justify stops, searches and arrest, and often don’t know the law on proper stops, searches and arrests; that officers fail to provide effective policing services to people with limited English proficiency; and that officers systematically misclassify potential sexual assaults, and conduct “seriously deficient” investigations of alleged sexual assaults and domestic violence cases, and mishandle responses to domestic-abuse calls.
The investigation found that “even the most serious uses of force, such as officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, are investigated inadequately or not at all” by the NOPD.
In fact, “NOPD’s mishandling of officer-involved shooting investigations was so blatant and egregious that it appeared intentional in some respects.
“For a time, NOPD had a practice of temporarily assigning officers who had been involved in officer-involved shootings to the Homicide Division, and then automatically deeming the statements officers provided to homicide investigators to be ‘compelled,’ effectively immunizing the use of these statements in any subsequent criminal investigation or prosecution,” the report said.
“Arrest data provided by NOPD indicates that in 2009, the department arrested 500 African-American males and eight white males for serious offenses.”
Meanwhile, “during this same period the department arrested 65 African American females and one white female in this same group.
“Adjusting for population, these figures mean that the ratio of arrest rates for both African-American males to white males, and African-American females to white females was nearly 16 to 1.”
Meanwhile, “nationally in 2009, among those agencies reporting data, the arrest ratio of African-American youth to white youth, for the same offenses, was approximately 3 to 1.”
All 27 people shot by police officers between January 2009 and May 2010 were black.
NOPD policies are neither solidly written nor carefully enforced, and officers tend to make shockingly poor decisions with respect to force, the report found.
And “systemic deficiencies in NOPD’s investigation and review of officer-involved shootings are so egregious that they appear in some respects to be deliberate,” the report found.
“Despite clear and systemic problems with how NOPD officers use deadly force, NOPD has not found that an officer-involved shooting violated policy in at least six years, and NOPD officials we spoke with could recall only one out-of-policy finding even before that time.”
The investigation found minority groups in the New Orleans area to be drastically underserved.
Both the vast Vietnamese population and ever-growing Latino population have a large number of members who do not speak English at all.
“NOPD relies primarily upon just two officers, one fluent in Spanish and one fluent in Vietnamese, to assist on calls for service and investigations throughout the department,” the report states.
Members of those minority communities reported to investigators that they do not call NOPD because if officers arrive to a crime scene at all, they arrive hours late, and because officers tend to do more harm than good when they arrive.
“In 2009, NOPD reported 98 forcible rapes and 179 homicides, when in virtually every other city the numbers of rapes far outpace the number of homicides,” the report found.
“These figures, particularly in a city with high tourism and multiple colleges and universities, are strikingly low. Based on our review of the documents and interviews with NOPD and other stakeholders, we concluded that the department likely had diverted many complaints of possible sexual assault from being fully investigated by classifying them as non-criminal ‘Signal 21s,’ the department’s code for miscellaneous complaints.”
“Our review of Signal 21 reports found that NOPD routinely asks questions that are likely to heighten many victims’ feelings of shame and self-blame, fear of not being believed, and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system.”
NOPD investigators have no practice of interviewing the rape suspect, only the victim, according to the report.
Similarly, NOPD has no protocols for handling domestic violence situations.
Particularly subject to abuse is the NOPD practice called the “Detail” system, where NOPD officers are hired out and paid by private companies to work security.
“The paid Detail System may be the ‘aorta of corruption’ within NOPD,” the report states.
“The Detail system contributes to the poor policing that we observed. There is evidence that some officers are more committed to their Details than their work for NOPD. We heard accounts of ‘ghosting,’ where an officer shows up for roll call and then reports to his or her Detail, rather than his assignment for NOPD.”
Further, “It is widely acknowledged in the policing field that some businesses hire officers on Detail with the expectation that officers will ‘look the other way’ when faced with a conflict between enforcing the law and protecting the business’s interest.
“The Detail system costs the city money it can little afford to spend, while the city could easily be making money for providing the same service.
“Officers are permitted and even expected to use their NOPD equipment while working Details.
“In most instances, neither the business nor the officer is charged for the private use of this equipment.
“NOPD’s vehicle fleet is in significant disrepair, and yet the city pays for the additional maintenance on and gas for vehicles used during Details.
“If an officer gets injured while performing police duties on a Detail, or is successfully sued for misconduct while working a Detail, the city is potentially liable.
“Over the past three years, for example, three motorcycle officers who have been in accidents while working for Details have had their workers’ compensation claims paid by the city.
“In December 2009, a canine officer took his dog to his Details assignment and took the opportunity to conduct a training exercise. The canine died when it fell down an open elevator shaft.
“The city bore the loss of the approximately fifteen thousand dollars it would cost to replace the trained canine.”
The 115-page report is followed by 15 pages of suggestions for. The report has numerous remarks by investigators on elements of the Police Department that have already begun to change for the better, or that show promise of change. The canine division was suspended upon investigators’ realization that the dogs were attacking their handlers.