Posted on March 21, 2011

Justice Department Criticizes New Orleans Police, Vows to Fix Problems

Jerry Markon, Washington Post, March 17, 2011

The Justice Department on Thursday accused the New Orleans Police Department of systematic misconduct that violated the Constitution, saying that officers used excessive force, illegally arrested people and targeted black and gay residents.

After a 10-month investigation that officials called unprecedented in scope, the Justice Department issued a report saying police engaged in racial profiling against the city’s black majority. From January 2009 to May 2010, for example, officers intentionally fired their weapons at 27 people, the report said. All 27 were African American.

In releasing their findings at a news conference in New Orleans, Justice officials vowed to work with the city to reform the scandal-plagued department, whose reputation has further deteriorated since Hurricane Katrina. {snip}


In an unusual move, New Orleans officials had invited in the federal government to help remake the police department, after years of complaints by residents that escalated after Katrina devastated the city in 2005.


Justice Department investigators did not examine the widely reported allegations of police misconduct after Katrina, confining their review to the past two years. They found that the police department has “long been a troubled agency” and that it suffers from inadequate training, supervision and community oversight.

The report said that police “routinely use unnecessary and unreasonable force,” including against mentally ill people and suspects already in handcuffs, and that offending officers are rarely punished. The department’s police dogs were “uncontrollable to the point where they repeatedly attacked their own handlers,” the report said.

Numerous community members, especially African Americans and gay men and lesbians, told investigators about alleged police harassment and unjustified stops and arrests. Many officers echoed those concerns, the report said.

The racial disparity, investigators said, was particularly striking, even in a city that is 60 percent African American. In 2009, police data showed that officers arrested 500 African American males younger than 17 for offenses ranging from homicide to larceny. During the same period, eight white males of the same age group were arrested.

Although there is also a racial disparity in arrest data nationwide, it is “not nearly as extreme” as in New Orleans, the report said