New Orleans Consent Decree May Mean Shedding Ingrained Traditions


Over the next few months, New Orleans city attorneys and local and federal law enforcement officials will pound out a document that, like the one in Los Angeles, will profoundly change policing in the city, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It’s a fix imposed on only the most dysfunctional police departments, where rogue cops flourish in part because the systems in place for officers to police themselves are useless or nonexistent. The end product will be a consent decree, an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and city officials that will lay out guidelines and impose restrictions that must be followed to right the wrongs of the New Orleans Police Department.

Historically, decrees have forced police departments to overhaul their policies and change the way they report crime, use force and address race and community relations. Officers are forced to police in ways that don’t violate the rights of citizens, and they must document everything along the way. More than a dozen cities — including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles — have gone through this process. Their experiences show that wholesale reform is hard and expensive, often costing millions for oversight, new technology and training. Consent-decree veterans — community activists, police and city officials — say that to succeed, departments must shed their most deeply ingrained traditions and embrace change. How quickly the mandates are implemented, and how sincerely they are adopted, depends in large part on the person at the top: the chief. Civilian oversight also plays a key role in ensuring reforms stick over the long haul, police observers said.

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