Policing Reform Campaign
A 1991 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report revealed New Orleans had the most citizen complaints of police brutality in the country. Between 1993 and 1998, over 50 officers were arrested for felonies, including homicide, rape, and robberies. Two New Orleans police officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges in 1998 for beating two handcuffed men in custody. An officer was convicted in 1996 for hiring a hit man to kill a woman who had lodged a brutality complaint against him. Another officer was convicted in 1995 for robbing a Vietnamese restaurant and shooting, execution style, three people including an off-duty officer working as security at the restaurant.
When the DOJ threatened to bring civil actions against New Orleans for its pattern of rights violations by the NOPD, Mayor Marc Morial hired an outsider, Richard Pennington, as his chief, and ordered a clean up of the department. During Pennington’s reign, 110 police officers were arrested, 600 officers were suspended, 117 were fired and 180 officers resigned while under investigation. The period of reform was short lived as political deals were cut and Pennington left his position. Since his leaving in 2002, New Orleans citizens have watched and suffered as their police force has fallen back into pre-Pennington patterns of violence and harassment.
The current make up of NOPD arrests and convictions demonstrates law enforcement’s misplaced priorities and misguided incentives at the risk of public safety. In 2003, misdemeanor offenses composed 60% of all convictions in New Orleans, essentially making the Orleans Parish Criminal Court a misdemeanor court. Sixty-five percent of the city’s arrests were for non-violent drug offenses, compared to the national rate of 31%. Violent crime, on the other hand, remained under-addressed. The NOPD arrested individuals for violent offenses (15%) at less than half the rate of jurisdictions nationwide (31%). Even the Chief District Court Judge for the Orleans Parish Criminal Court commented that the Court was "being overwhelmed by... nickel-and-dime cases."
Combating police corruption and improving the quality of policing not only protects citizens from rogue officers, but it may also lower crime in the city. During the crackdown on corrupt police in the mid-nineties, the murder rate fell 63%, assaults dropped 60%, and armed robberies were down 49 %. As the reform period ended, crime rates climbed.
Safe Streets is working to reform the New Orleans Police Department to: