Inspector general details flaws in police warning system

Incomplete data on police faulted

By all accounts, the New Orleans Police Department needs to overhaul the system it uses to flag officers who attract complaints from the public or their superiors, known as an early warning system.

A report released Thursday by the city’s Office of Inspector General spells out in the most detail yet why that’s the case. It faults the department for maintaining handwritten and electronic complaint logs that don’t always match, lacking clear policies on which officers should be singled out for special training, and failing to track progress closely enough among officers who have been flagged.

Summing up its findings, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office points to “missing data, vague indicators, a one-size-fits-all curriculum, and an ineffective monitoring process.”

In a written response, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas differed with some of the report’s conclusions and rejected some of its recommendations as not feasible. He said the department can’t tailor a solution for every possible issue facing its officers or abandon hand-written complaint logs before its electronic system is more reliable.

But Serpas also agreed with many of the IG’s criticisms, particularly concerning the need to develop more detailed policies.

And he said those recommendations will be incorporated into a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the early warning system that is already under way as part of a federal consent decree, the court-ordered reform blueprint the department has been operating under since August.

“Let me be clear,” Serpas wrote, “our current early warning capabilities are minimal at present,” adding, “That is why we are going to build a modern” early warning system.

The city plans to have that new system in place by early 2016. In its first public report last week, the court-appointed monitor tasked with tracking the city’s progress on implementing the consent decree’s mandates laid out an agreed-upon timetable, with new policies set to be drafted in the first quarter of 2014, an information technology specialist to be hired in the first half of the year and a pilot program to be in place by 2015.

In all, the new system will cost about $15 million, with maintenance costs of nearly $3 million a year, according to the inspector general’s report.

As the report notes, New Orleans has had some form of early warning system in place for several decades, but by the time the U.S. Justice Department began investigating the department in 2010, it was “outdated” and existed “in name only.”

“Officers of every rank and throughout the department told us that information is only haphazardly submitted for inclusion in the database,” the Justice Department reported. “And being subject to the program’s single intervention — a one-size-fits-all course commonly referred to as a ‘bad boy school’ — reportedly is seen by some as a badge of honor.”

The Landrieu administration began revamping the program in 2010, and the independent police monitor’s office, which is affiliated with Quatrevaux’s office, chipped in to buy an early warning database and hardware system for the Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau.

But the inspector general’s latest report, along with Serpas’ response, makes clear that those early efforts won’t be enough. The report points out, for instance, that not all of the complaints in the Public Integrity Bureau’s handwritten logs show up in the electronic database, and it recommends simply eliminating the paper forms.

Serpas rejects that idea, saying there have been 51 occasions on which the new database software, known as IAPro, has been “unavailable for a period of time.” He said the paper files are an “invaluable safeguard against losing data due to system crashes.”

Serpas also resists the idea of more closely tailoring the department’s special training program, known as Professional Performance Enhancement Program, for individual officers, at least in the near term.

“The program attempts to address the most common issues faced by the majority of officers,” he wrote, although adding that part of the planning process for the new system includes creating “a menu of intervention options with varying levels of intensity and specificity.”

On other points, Serpas simply acknowledged holes in the department’s intervention policies. The inspector general’s report points out the NOPD lacks a policy for deciding which officers flagged by the database should actually go through the training program, for instance.

Serpas agreed such a policy needs to be written, and he said the Public Integrity Bureau will “revise its internal directives to establish set criteria for selecting officers” even before the new warning system is in place.

He also agreed the department needs to make sure supervisors are submitting progress reports for officers who have been through the program. The inspector general’s report said complete reports had been turned in for only 3 of 91 participating officers in 2012.

“It is important that monitoring reports be submitted in a timely fashion,” Serpas wrote, “and NOPD plans to enhance accountability in this area.”