By Leischen Stelter
It seems like everywhere I turn I see a news headline about police reform. I have the phrase “police policy” set up as a Google Alert and it seems like every day my inbox is packed with new stories. The biggest story, I suppose, was the announcement on July 24th that Attorney General Eric Holder had issued a major overhaul of the New Orleans Police Department. Holder, in conjunction with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, signed a federal consent decree that is designed to clean up NOPD. This represents the most sweeping police reform ever negotiated by the Justice Department, according to this ABC News article.
The NOPD has a reputation for being corrupt and mismanaged and in recent years faced many allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional activity, but the problems came to a head after a string of police shootings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Justice Department hopes to remedy some of these issues by requiring an overhaul of the department’s policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.
Here are some of the provisions of the reform:
- All officers will be required to receive at least 24 hours of training on stops, searches and arrests; 40 hours of use-of-force training; and four hours of training on bias-free policing within a year of the agreement taking effect.
- All interrogations involving suspected homicides or sexual assaults will have to be recorded in their entirety on video. The department also will be required to install video cameras and location devices in all patrol cars and other vehicles within two years.
- The department will be required to completely restructure the system for paying officers for off-duty security details, develop a new report format for collecting data on all stops and searches and create a recruitment program to increase diversity among its officers.
Mayor Landrieu estimated that the city will pay about $11 million annually for the next four or five years to implement these reforms.
While this isn’t the first time the Justice Department has made such agreements (it did so in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland and Detroit), it is considered the broadest reform and has requirements not made on those other cities.
Then, on July 30, I read this article about Seattle officials agreeing to have an independent monitor and court oversight over its police department after a report that found officers routinely used excessive force. This agreement was spurred by a civil rights investigation last year after the fatal shooting of a homeless, Native American man, along with other reported incidents that officers were too quick to reach for weapons even when arresting people for minor offenses. This report also found that force was used unconstitutionally one out of every five times an officer resorted to it. The department failed to adequately review the use of force and lacked policies and training related to the use of force, it said.
The agreed reforms for Seattle include revision of its use-of-force policies as well as enhancement to its training, reporting, investigation and supervision for situations involving use of force. The agreement also must create a Community Police Commission, which would be a civilian oversight body.
Are these federally mandated reforms in Seattle and New Orleans indicative of a greater issue happening in police agencies across the country? Or are these just two departments that don’t have (and/or enforce) best-practice policing policies?