Has the NOPD Substantially Improved? They May Be Consent Decree Compliant by July

NOPD on Bourbon” by Kevin L O’Mara is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2013, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that the New Orleans Police Department had established a pattern of unconstitutional policing, including regularly using unjustified force against citizens, making unlawful arrests without probable cause, and discriminating against BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals. 

As a result of the investigation, a consent decree was put into place that required the NOPD to become more compliant with the U.S. Constitution. 

Since being instituted 8 years ago, the consent decree has resulted in more than 200 new NOPD policies, addressing almost every element of policing including investigations into officer-involved shootings, community engagement, and body cameras.

After 8 years of policy changes, at a public hearing conducted over Zoom on Tuesday, the leading federal monitor declared that the NOPD may be consent decree compliant by July. 

Lead monitor Jonathan Aronie noted that this victory was not guaranteed, “But we think this is possible. The actual timeline depends on the New Orleans Police Department.”

The NOPD was praised for reaching full compliance in 3 areas: the training academy, misconduct investigations, and recruitment operations. However, it was noted that there are still 5 areas the NOPD needs to continue to work on: supervision; performance evaluations and promotions; stops, searches, and arrests; bias-free policing; and community engagement.

New Orleans city attorneys have argued that the city has been in “full and effective compliance” with the decree for over two years, and look forward to the city no longer having to pay “millions of dollars” out of the police budget towards funding the oversight officials. 

In November, attorneys filed a formal notice to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing their belief that the NOPD was in full compliance with the consent decree, which is the first step prior to formally requesting that the court end the agreement. 

They said that the insights from monitors “are a luxury that the City can no longer afford.” In June, when the city’s revenue was at an unprecedented low because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Cantrell echoed this sentiment saying it was time to “get the bear out of our pocket” and stop paying federal monitors overseeing consent decrees for the police force and parish jail. 

The consent decree monitors cost the city $115,000 a month for their services, which is only a fraction of the NOPD’s $178 million annual budget. While the city’s attorney’s argued that the monitors are a luxury the city can’t afford, criminal justice reform advocates have argued that the city can’t afford not to have them, especially since the NOPD continues to exhibit problematic behavior. 

Criminal justice reform advocates have spoken out against the NOPD reaching their decree compliance, citing recent issues like questionable arrests made by an 8th District task force and tear gas being used on Black Lives Matter protestors this summer. A February report from monitors also found that reform progress had stalled in 2020, which is not encouraging. 

At the meeting on Tuesday, attorneys and monitors from the DOJ made it clear that the agreement would only be terminated after full compliance is reached and the NOPD has passed the “sustained compliance” period. 

This 2-year period will ensure that the NOPD doesn’t go back to its “old ways” once there is no longer oversight. Addressing this, NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said that he wants these reforms to stick, and hopes through conducting regular internal audits he can ensure they do. “We’re not just looking for a compliance, we’re looking to sustain this for years to come.” 


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