New Orleans Officials Promise Police Reforms

New Orleans, La. – New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says he welcomes the report of the 10-month investigation.

"Yes. I invited the Department of Justice to come in to the city of New Orleans and to lend their substantial expertise, their historical knowledge about what works and what doesn't work so that we could actually transform the streets of the city of New Orleans into a place that is safe, because if there is no safety there is no freedom. Where there is no freedom there is no peace."

Deputy U-S Attorney General James Cole says the findings are troubling.

"The New Orleans Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct."

The report highlighted the use of excessive force, racial profiling and unconstitutional searches. It notes that in the past six years, the department has not found one officer-involved shooting violated policy. It says officers have used force against people in handcuffs and against the mentally ill when no use of force was justified. It found that people not proficient in English and those in the lesbian, gay and transgender community are not treated fairly.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the civil rights division says while some progress has been made under the new administration, the problems run deep.

"Our investigation has shown show that the problems and challenges confronting the NOPD are serious, wide-ranging, systemic and deeply rooted in the culture of the department."

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas says the problems are not only well documented in the report, their common knowledge.

"Clearly I recognized early on; clearly Mayor Landrieu recognized early on. And quite honestly it's the simple truth. We had policies that were just being ignored routinely. We had training that had completely come off the tracks."

Cole says his department's investigation shows how citizens have been suffering.

"Many New Orleans police officers have failed to live up to what we rightfully expect from our law enforcement people. The overwhelming and undeniable facts discovered through this investigation show reasonable cause to believe that the New Orleans Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct. Because of this, it has failed to provide the protection that the people of New Orleans should expect from their police department."

The report includes several detailed recommendations on improving the police. They include changes to recruitment, supervision and training. Serpas is currently overhauling the top-level command system through the City Council and Civil Service Commission. He says what did come as a surprise in the review was the poor supervision that came from the top. Landrieu says talks will begin soon to set up a formal monitoring system with federal independent review.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming