Feds: Pattern of misconduct by New Orleans police

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 6:21 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans police officers have often used deadly force without justification, repeatedly made unconstitutional arrests and engaged in racial profiling, the Justice Department said Thursday in a scathing report.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu called the report sobering but not surprising, given the highly publicized problems laid bare after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The mayor had requested the review shortly after taking office in May 2010 and said many of the problems outlined in the report were exposed after Katrina but existed long before the storm devastated the low-lying city on the Mississippi River.

The report found that the department has long failed to adequately protect New Orleans residents because of numerous shortcomings, including inadequate supervision and ineffective methods of taking and investigating complaints.

The report's release comes as one former police officer awaits sentencing for a federal manslaughter conviction in a post-Katrina shooting and as others await trial in the separate killings of unarmed civilians. Justice Department officials made no mention of the active criminal cases in their report.

"Even the most serious uses of force, such as officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, are investigated inadequately or not at all," the report said, referring frequently to the department by its acronym NOPD. "NOPD's mishandling of officer-involved shooting investigations was so blatant and egregious that it appeared intentional in some respects."

It said poor recruitment, bad training, ignorance or disregard of policies that often are unclear contributed to a lack of confidence and even a distrust of the police. That, in turn contributes to a violent crime problem that police have found difficult to control, the report said.

The report says internal investigations are conducted by field supervisors who lack training and that discipline had been meted out inconsistently. These and other problems "render NOPD's system for investigating and responding to allegations of officer misconduct ineffective at changing officer behavior or holding officers responsible for their actions."

Mary Howell, a civil rights lawyer who has frequently represented victims of alleged police misconduct, agreed with the findings.

"You cannot fight crime with a brutal and corrupt police department," she added. "We have had it for years and we have paid dearly for that."

Landrieu and his hand-picked police chief, Ronal Serpas, said reforms already are under way and they welcomed the report.

"There's nobody in this room that is surprised by the general tenor and tone of what this report has to say," Landrieu said at the news conference with Serpas and Justice Department officials, including U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

Landrieu reiterated a pledge that policy changes and practical reforms would be adopted as a result of the report and enforced by a federal court order he plans to seek jointly with the Justice Department

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