Friday, February 03, 2023

"It's going to be perfectly fine"

Depends on how you define "fine," I guess

Facing a staffing shortage at the New Orleans Police Department that last year forced the city to shorten traditional parade routes, the city announced a plan last week to recruit help from outside sheriffs’ offices. 

To that end, the city entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office to recruit and manage deputies from outside law enforcement agencies to work Mardi Gras details. At a cost of about $1 million, the plan calls for between 100 and 200 deputies from sheriff’s offices across the state to help the NOPD patrol parade routes between Feb. 10 and 21. 

The plan raised questions as to whether these outside agencies would be required to abide by the terms of the NOPD’s federal consent decree, adopted 10 years ago to ensure that the department — which has a well-documented history of abuse and corruption — would police the city in accordance with constitutional standards. 

The consent decree is supposed to apply to agents of the city and the NOPD, though in the past, outside law enforcement agencies — even one that was brought in to police New Orleans under direct contract with the city — have not been subject to the reform agreement. 

And in this case, Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson’s office has provided a buffer between the city and the outside agencies being brought in for Mardi Gras. 

At a press conference this week announcing the new strategy, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city and the NOPD would “ensure that everyone is on the same page relative to policy, procedures.”

Woodfork said at the same press conference the arrangement was reviewed by the city Law Department, the mayor’s chief administrative officer and she expected it would also be reviewed by the consent decree monitors.

“I think it’s going to be perfectly fine,” she said.

The above is from a Verite story informing us that Deputy Consent Decree Monitor David Douglass has pretty much signed off on the supplemental police plan for Mardi Gras even though there's no way to ensure that they will follow the practices the decree holds NOPD to. The fact that our supposedly reform minded Sheriff is here as well to act as a "buffer" for them just adds to the irony. 

Anyway, the article goes on to explain that the contract the outside agencies sign makes it explicitly clear that they are not subject to the provisions of the consent decree. It also says the outside agencies are shielded from liability. Furthermore, the article cites a famous example from 2015 when Louisiana State Police attacked and falsely arrested a high school student on Bourbon Street in a case that legally established the consent decree exemptions. 

In their complaint, Dotson’s attorneys contended that the troopers were acting as agents of the NOPD and should be bound by the consent decree. When they tried to submit the consent decree and the NOPD policy manual as exhibits, attorneys for the State Police objected, arguing that the agreement applied solely to the NOPD. 

In a 2018 ruling, Morgan, the same judge who is presiding over the consent decree, agreed. She wrote that the exhibits could not be admitted as evidence because it was immaterial to the case. “The LSP is not a party to the Consent Decree, and the Consent Decree does not apply to the LSP,” Morgan wrote.

There are more examples of such abuses. They happen so frequently, in fact, that one almost begins to question whether there is any point to having a consent decree in effect at all. The mayor says this a lot, actually, but I don't think this is what she means by it. Insofar as she ever is saying anything coherent, she sounds like she'd like to see as many police cracking as many skulls as possible. 

And it seems most city councilmembers would agree with her.  In the most recent episode of JP Morrell's podcast, he and Leslie Harris pine for the return of the so-called TIGER "anti-gang" task forces. Federal monitors ordered those units disbanded in 2020 citing numerous violations including improper searches, failure to use body cameras, and reckless tactics like raids and car chases. There was also a case in which task force officers appeared to fabricate evidence for an arrest.

It should also be said that special units like TIGER deployed to so-called "hot spots" with special permission to terrorize residents are precisely the sort of tactics that bring about incidents like the recent brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis, among many others.

The specialized units have been popping up all over the country, proposed in response to reports of rising violent crime. Some of the anti-crime units have been accused of excessive force; in the killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky, police in 2020, that force was deadly. In addition, the units, as in the case of SCORPION in Memphis, are expensive to maintain, rekindling a national debate about the funding of police departments.

“The SCORPION unit is what ‘fund the police’ rhetoric looks like in reality,” Working Families Party National Director Maurice Mitchell said in a statement to The Intercept. “Instead of pouring more money into militarized forces that brutalize, terrorize, and even murder, we should fund libraries, after-school programs, good jobs, and other investments proven to keep us safe.”

But never mind that, says, JP. "We need all the help we can get," even if that means pulling together hundreds of unaccountable police from outside of the city and sending as many tactical death squads into our neighborhoods as possible. 

On the other hand, Chief Woodfork thinks it's going to be perfectly fine. And if not, hey maybe the robots will fix it

In a move reminiscent of former NOPD Superintendent Richard Pennington's COMSTAT strategy, which in 1996 leveraged computers and data to deploy officers to crime hotspots and helped slash the per capita homicide rate by 50%, Woodfork plans to use cutting-edge technology to strategically deploy officers.

That technology includes drones, license plate readers, the "Neighbors by Ring" surveillance program, real time crime cameras and a new fingerprinting system. The department is also considering robot cops, though Woodruff said the initiative is in the preliminary phases.

What could go wrong?

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