Justice Department, Serpas Work to Clean Up New Orleans Police


This month’s conviction of five New Orleans police officers in the post-Katrina Danziger Bridge case showed that the eight-year reform effort overseen by the U.S. Justice Department had not gone far enough or deep enough, NPR reports. “Sometime between 2005 and 2010 the train came off the tracks and crashed,” says police Superintendent Ronal Serpas. “It’s really a frightening case study of how fast it can all come apart.”

Last year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu invited the Justice Department back to help straighten out the police department again. In March, the department’s Civil Rights Division released a scathing, 150-page investigation detailing “systemic” problems. Among them: excessive force, illegal stops and searches, uncontrolled attack dogs, sloppy investigations of officer wrongdoing, poor hiring, poor training, poor supervision, and the notorious detail system, whereby officers can earn extra money pulling off-duty security details for things like parades. Serpas has tightened up the detail system, fired or sidelined bad commanders, and put teeth in internal affairs reviews of officer misconduct. “If you are untruthful, first time, you’re terminated,” he said, “We have dismissed more than 35 people in the last 15 months. It’s probably up to 37 or 38 now. And we have suspended 200 people.”

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