Good morning, and thank you all for joining us on what will be remembered, I believe, as a very important day for the people of New Orleans.
I would like to start by thanking Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole for being with us to announce our findings. His support – and the support of the Attorney General – was essential in enabling the Civil Rights Division to complete this investigation. I also want to acknowledge the leadership and dedication of the lead attorneys who managed this investigation -- Christy Lopez and Roy Austin.
As the Deputy Attorney General mentioned, we have been grateful to have the cooperation and support of Mayor Landrieu, of Superintendent Serpas and of the majority of NOPD officers. Equally importantly, we have been grateful to have the support of the community. We all know that real challenges lie ahead, and the entire city’s dedication to changing the culture of NOPD provides us hope that we can, in fact, succeed in improving policing in New Orleans.
In the years since Hurricane Katrina devastated this great American city, New Orleans has undergone a rebirth. Much of the focus has necessarily been, and continues to be, on bricks and mortar reconstruction – literally putting this city back together, rebuilding its infrastructure and its communities. Today is about rebuilding a core part of the fundamental infrastructure of democracy – an effective, accountable police department that controls crime, ensures respect for the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it is charged with protecting.
The Justice Department opened its investigation of the New Orleans Police Department last year with a single mission: to work with all stakeholders to build a world class police force.
This investigation has been unique and precedent setting in a number of ways that will better enable us to meet our goal of building a world class police force:
- The broad scope of the investigation was unprecedented;
- Our level of engagement with the community was widespread, and unmatched during any of our previous police investigations;
- There was an unparalleled effort by components across the Justice Department to lend their considerable expertise to this report; and
- We also had an unprecedented level of interaction with all levels of NOPD officers and leadership.
Perhaps most important, never before during a policing investigation have we had such broad recognition, within and outside of the Police Department, of the need to repair the relationship between the department and the community it polices, and to improve officer skills, professionalism and integrity.
Our investigation has shown that the problems facing the NOPD are serious, wide ranging, systemic, and deeply rooted in the culture of the Department.
Our findings revealed a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct or violations of federal law in several areas. These include violations committed by officers through their actions, including the use of excessive force; Unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; and racial and ethnic profiling and mistreatment of LGBT individuals.
- We found that officers regularly used excessive force as retaliation, and that in the last 6 years – there has not been a single finding of an officer involved shooting that violated policy. Supervisors fail to hold officers accountable for excessive force, and there are frequently intentional acts to prevent prosecutions of officers. We found the use of uncontrollable canines, and a lack of training on alternatives to force.
- We found that officers regularly fail to articulate the facts to justify stops, searches and arrest, and that often, officers don’t know the law regarding proper stops, searches and arrests. We also found that the NOPD’s system encourages a focus on quantity of arrests rather than quality.
- We found virtually no data collection regarding racial profiling, and a lack of adequate policies and training regarding discriminatory policing. A random sample of 96 Resisting Arrest/Use of Force Reports from January 2009 to May 2010 showed that 84% (81) involved African-American subjects. In that same time period, there were 27 deadly force incidents, involving 27 African American subjects of deadly force.
- We found regular harassment of LGBT individuals, and the use of the “crimes against nature” statute almost solely against LGBT individuals.
In addition, we found violations committed through omission, including a systemic failure to provide effective policing services to persons with limited English proficiency; and a systemic failure to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence.
- We found that the Department is unable to meaningfully police in Spanish and Vietnamese speaking communities, and unable to communicate meaningfully with potential witnesses. We found delays and denials of service for these communities, and a practice of allowing subjects to interpret for victims of domestic violence.
- We found a systematic misclassification of potential sexual assaults and seriously deficient investigations of alleged sexual assaults and domestic violence cases. We also found that investigators and first responders lacked proper training to adequately respond to and investigate these cases.
Our investigation found a number of long-standing and entrenched practices within NOPD that caused or contributed to these patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct, including:
- Failed systems for officer recruitment, promotion and evaluation;
- Inadequate training;
- Inadequate supervision;
- Ineffective systems of complaint intake, investigation and adjudication;
- A failed “Paid Detail” system;
- Failure to engage in community oriented policing;
- Inadequate officer assistance and support services; and
- Lack of sufficient community oversight.
If we don’t address these underlying root causes, we don’t fix the problem.
Let me specifically address the Paid Detail system which, as currently structured, is deeply flawed. As one of our contributors commented, “the Paid Detail system is the aorta of corruption within the New Orleans Police Department.” We believe it will be impossible to transform the culture of NOPD without dramatic change to the Detail system.
We all know that NOPD’s problems did not start with Katrina. Our investigation focused on the last two years, but the problems we uncovered are longstanding, and it will take the diligent efforts of the entire city to create sustainable change. Make no mistake -- difficult work lies ahead.
The next step is to use the report to develop a blueprint for sustainable reform that will reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution and restore public confidence in the NOPD. We will then to work together to develop a consent decree that embodies the core points of the blueprint. In the coming days and weeks, we will continue our extensive public outreach. We want to hear from the people of New Orleans, answer your questions, and get your recommendations on the path forward.
My colleagues and I are not naïve about the enormity of the task that lies ahead. Culture change does not occur overnight. But we at the Justice Department have been heartened by the dedication to sustainable change we have seen throughout the city -- from members of the community, from officers, and from local elected officials. Positive change has already begun. And as deeply rooted as the problems are, I remain chronically optimistic that we can transform NOPD.