Saturday, June 08, 2024

Selling the public

Judge Morgan is making noises like she's finally ready to release NOPD from the consent decree. 

The prospect of reduced monitoring, on the way to ending oversight, came into focus this week. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who has tracked the reforms since their start, heard a positive report on officer bias, then bluntly requested a plan to launch the NOPD into a two-year "sustainment" phase under the 2012 reform pact known as a consent decree.

"We need to begin putting the framework in place," she said Wednesday.

I don't know enough about their "officer bias" metrics to speak with much authority. Having said that, it's clearly all bullshit that can mean whatever they want it to mean whenever they want it to mean that.  Anyway if NOPD says they're doing a better job, there are reasons to remain skeptical.  

For example, we know the consent decree places limits on high speed chases that pose an unreasonable danger to life and property such as this one that killed two teens in 2019. And yet just this week we saw officers racing through Uptown in pursuit of suspects. And in a separate incident only a few days later, an NOPD officer crashed into a utility pole on St. Charles Avenue knocking out power for approximately 1000 residents. In what way is this progress?

We can look also at the several law enforcement agencies currently operating in New Orleans outside of the federal mandates. This week the 5th Circuit is hearing a case about two private patrol officers who held a teenager at gunpoint after he asked them for help looking for his lost dog. And, of course, many concerns remain about the newly installed State Troop NOLA.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who oversees reforms to the New Orleans Police Department under a consent decree, has expressed concern over the new troop’s role in the city and LSP’s transparency about it, though she has no direct say over how troopers operate within city limits.

Landry insisted Tuesday that officials had consulted with the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI regarding its activities and that troopers in New Orleans have acted “in the most professional manner.”

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has been investigating the LSP to assess whether it uses excessive force or engages in racially discriminatory policing in the wake of the 2019 death of Ronald Greene.

All of which leads us to ask: if we have clear examples of police with no oversight behaving badly in New Orleans right now, why would we want to operate NOPD with no restrictions as well? The only answer we can come up with is politics. Morgan is a federal judge and certainly doesn't have to jump whenever the local electeds say jump. But, after a while, even the least credible bullying, like the Governor calling for her impeachment, starts to get the point across. Likely there is additional pressure from all business and political leaders in all corners wanting to get this all wrapped up now that the "Summer of Superbowl" is here.

The way the T-P writes it, you'd think the whole thing is just one big marketing challenge, anyway.

The contrast in tone, tenor and verbiage — optimism in the courtroom among deputy police chiefs, Morgan and the monitors, while community voices drip with skepticism — suggests a challenge in selling the public on the idea that the NOPD is ready to police itself.

"We want Black people to be acknowledged, because it was Black people who were maimed and murdered, who got the consent decree put in place," said Alicia Plummer, vice president of the New Orleans East Business Association.

"Who is speaking for us?...The police and federal monitors, they're in cahoots together."

Is NOPD "ready to police itself?" Not anywhere near as important as, "can we sell the public on the idea?"

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