Details on police stops pushed

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said Wednesday that better data collection is needed to ensure New Orleans police are not engaging in unconstitutional stops of people based on their race.

Quatrevaux made that statement to the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee during a contentious meeting between the public and police Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

The meeting came shortly after the Office of Inspector General issued a report that said there are problems with how the New Orleans Police Department collects information on field interview cards. Those cards are filled out by officers during a stop of a person. Without properly filling them out, Quatrevaux said, no one can figure out if stops officers make are constitutional.

Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson told the committee that a study she did found that the NOPD needs to update its policy to give guidance to officers about what a legal suspicious stop is.

“Several” officers said they have concerns about the process involved with filling out a field interview card, Hutson said.

Anecdotally, Hutson said, there is evidence that the NOPD is doing illegal stops. One of her own staff members, she said, was stopped illegally.

“No reason was given for the stop whatsoever,” Hutson said. “These things impact how the NOPD interacts with the community.”

The law only allows for an officer to make a stop when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

One problem with the field interview cards, Quatrevaux said, is that there is no place where officers are required to give an “explicit” reason for any stop.

Another area in which Quatrevaux said there are problems with the field interview cards is that 12 percent of those his office reviewed reported “no search” but also gave a legal reason for a search.

“There’s some contradictory data here,” he said.

“It’s not just the actions of the police officers,” Council President Stacy Head said. “It’s that the cards are lacking in some way.”

While the OIG has suggested modifying the software to remedy those problems, the NOPD says it cannot do that with its current funding.

Serpas said he expects it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to upgrade the software.

He told the council committee that he hopes to use money affiliated with the pending consent decree to pay for that.

“In our view the estimated cost is not great,” Quatrevaux said.

The IMP report found that the NOPD’s field interview policy lists some facts for police to consider when doing a stop or frisk but does not provide case law or practical examples, nor does it explain that any one fact on its own would be insufficient legal justification for that action.

The report also found that NOPD training and materials give incomplete information about federal and state laws that govern stops and frisks and that NOPD policies on stopping and frisking and profiling do not dovetail with national best practices since the polices are not developed or explained in conjunction with each other.

“We want the Fourth Amendment to permeate and pervade every aspect of the NOPD’s policy and training and procedures,” Hutson said.

Serpas defended the department, saying he is already taking steps to remedy those problems.

He also said the IPM report shed no new information on the situation involving stops and frisks and problems with the NOPD’s policies surrounding it.

“I think it took them about 10 months to tell us what the Justice Department told us,” Serpas said of a previous look the federal agency did of the NOPD.

Hutson, however, said that her report is more up to date than the Department of Justice report since it includes a broader time frame both before and after the consent decree was issued.

“We stand by this report, absolutely,” Hutson said.