Thu, May. 19, 2011
Recent revelations about NOPD command staff involvement in complex police detail structures are troubling, distracting, and of potentially criminal import. These revelations also are emblematic of a broader and still more troubling context: deeply corrupt management of a major police department, and the resultant--painfully evident--inability of our police force to keep New Orleanians safe.
The silver lining around all of this is public engagement: A public that for years and generations has shrugged off corruption and misconduct on the part of law enforcement is finally speaking out against this unacceptable behavior. Now, we hope that the public will engage beyond the single issue of off-duty police detail work, as serious as this matter is, and consider the more pervasive problems plaguing NOPD management. The recent U.S. Department of Justice report on the NOPD (http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/nopd_report.pdf) calls out the issue of police details for particular attention. It also calls attention to many, many other troubling issues, including: sex offenses and domestic violence and a habitual neglect of these crimes; mishandling of homicide investigations, including the destructive mishandling of victim-survivors; unprofessional handling of evidence in personal crime cases; and persistent racial profiling. These are just a few examples from the Department of Justice report, which found a culture of corruption that implicates nearly every member of the NOPD within historical memory.
The scandal over improper police details will find a resolution, but that will not mark the end of the broader problems that paralyze the ability of honest, dedicated police officers to do their job and protect us. Let's make this the first step toward a consistent public demand for accountability and legitimacy on the part of our police force--beginning with a thoughtful consideration of what it will mean to accomplish the necessary first step of earning the public's trust and collaboration. Because without that trust, and without the buy-in of citizens from every community in New Orleans, the federal government's investment and engagement in the NOPD, a circumstance rich with potential, will never bear fruit.