U.S. Justice Department has closed its 8-year investigation of police brutality and civil rights violations in the New Orleans Police Department, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. At one point, the police department was close to a federal takeover. In the late 1990s, Justice Department officials warned the city that it faced possible legal action, which led to consent decrees in cities such as Pittsburgh and Steubenville, Ohio. “It is truly a great day for the city of New Orleans and especially the New Orleans Police Department,” Mayor Ray Nagin said. “A dark cloud, if you will, has been lifted from the Police Department.”
The investigation was launched in 1996 after the police department was stung by a string of high-profile scandals. Those included an execution-style murder ordered by rogue officer Len Davis and a triple murder involving policewoman Antoinette Frank. The department also had one of the nation’s highest rates of noncriminal brutality complaints. Last week, the Justice Department told the city: “We believe that the changes you have made will remedy past constitutional deficiencies, promote best practices and help protect the civil rights of those who come into contact with the NOPD.”
Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said reforms, some suggested by the Justice Department, convinced federal officials to end the investigation. They included adding two FBI agents to a revamped Public Integrity Bureau, upgraded hiring and training standards, and an early warning system that tracks officers with repeated complaints against them.
The Justice Department letter cited implementation of three suggestions it made in July 2003: mandatory reports whenever physical force is used by an officer, the acceptance of anonymous citizen complaints, and a policy forbidding officers to choke suspects to keep them from swallowing illegal drugs.
Complaint data point to improvements. In 1998 the department fielded 1,635 complaints, with 440 — or 26.9 percent — generated by citizens. In 2003, there were 1,444 complaints, with 267 — or 18.5 percent — from citizens.