Group backs N.O. police decree

The city should not be allowed to get out of a court-approved agreement to reform the New Orleans Police Department, a community group said.

Community United for Change filed papers in federal court Wednesday opposing the city’s move to vacate the agreement. Instead, the group says, the court should consider putting the Police Department into receivership under U.S. Justice Department supervision.

The agreement, known as a consent decree, was the result of long negotiations between the city and the Justice Department and will cost the city millions of dollars a year to implement.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu had invited a Justice Department review of the scandal-plagued department soon after taking office in 2010. When the consent decree was announced in July, he joined U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at a news conference hailing the agreement.

But last month, he tried to put the brakes on the agreement shortly before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan approved it. Landrieu complained that the Justice Department in December made a separate agreement with the New Orleans sheriff for reforms at the city-funded jail — at a possible cost of $17 million.

Landrieu said the city can’t afford such costs.

The 124-page police consent decree spells out a series of strict requirements for overhauling the Police Department’s policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.

Among the requirements: All officers are 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.

“The people of New Orleans are entitled to human, civil, and constitutional rights,” the Community United for Change filing said. “These rights are not dependent on the financial or political option of the government.”

Community United was critical of the agreement early on, saying community groups had been left out of negotiations. The group had sought unsuccessfully to intervene in the case as Morgan decided whether to approve the consent decree.

The group is the latest to weigh in on the city’s move to vacate the agreement. Last week, the Justice Department urged the court not to vacate the consent decree and accused the city of inaccurately asserting that Justice officials withheld cost information about the jail.