NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans police officers have often used deadly force without justification, repeatedly made unconstitutional arrests and engaged in racial profiling, the Justice Department said Thursday in a scathing report.
The report found that the department has long failed to adequately protect New Orleans residents because of numerous shortcomings including inadequate supervision and ineffective methods of taking and investigating complaints.
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“Our findings show that the problems facing the NOPD are wide-ranging, systemic and deeply rooted in the culture of the department,” Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general, said at a news conference.
The inappropriate lethal force cited by the report includes officers who fired their guns or turned police dogs on people.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked for the Justice Department review shortly after he took office in May 2010. Landrieu has said he would welcome a federal consent decree ordering changes. The police chief appointed by Landrieu, Ronal Serpas, has also said he endorses reform of the department.
The department had been plagued by scandal for decades, including shootings of unarmed people in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Several officers recently pleaded guilty to their roles in the case.
Several other federal investigations are underway. However, the Justice Department said the investigation that led to Thursday’s report was not related to current criminal prosecutions.
The federal report outlined a myriad of problems in the department.
“NOPD’s canines and their handlers were so poorly trained that handlers were not able to adequately control their canines, substantially increasing the risk that canines would bite individuals, even after those individuals were complying or trying to comply with officers’ orders,” the report stated.
The report said there were many questionable officer-involved shootings, often involving gunfire at moving vehicles in violation of department policy.
And the report raised questions of racial bias.
“NOPD use of force data also shows a troubling racial disparity that warrants a searching inquiry into whether racial bias influenced the use of force at NOPD. Of the 27 instances between January 2009 and May 2010 in which NOPD officers intentionally discharged their firearms at people, all 27 of the subjects of this deadly force were African-American,” the report stated.
A review of “resisting arrest” reports that documented use of force over the same period found that blacks were the subjects of use of force 81 out of 96 times.