Eric Holder announces New Orleans police overhaul

Lance Madison was arrested by State Police and New Orleans police after a confrontation at the Danziger Bridge in which police fatally shot Madison’s brother and another man.
The Times-Picayune via Associated Press file 2005
Lance Madison was arrested by State Police and New Orleans police after a confrontation at the Danziger Bridge in which police fatally shot Madison’s brother and another man.

NEW ORLEANS — A court-supervised deal agreed to Tuesday will require the troubled New Orleans Police Department to implement the most sweeping police overhaul ever negotiated by the Justice Department.

Attorney General Eric Holder joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu in announcing the signing of a federal consent decree designed to clean up a police force that has been plagued by decades of corruption and mismanagement. The department came under renewed scrutiny following a string of police shootings in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The 124-page agreement 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.


Holder said the agreement is the most wide-ranging in the Justice Department’s history and resolves its allegations that New Orleans police officers have engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional activity.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

‘‘There can be no question that today’s action represents a critical step forward,’’ Holder said. ‘‘It reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to fair and vigorous law enforcement at every level.’’

Landrieu estimates the city will pay roughly $11 million annually for the next four or five years to implement the changes. He expressed confidence that the agreement will produce ‘‘the new NOPD.’’

‘‘There is no problem here that cannot be solved,’’ he said. ‘‘We can and we must change, and we now have a clear roadmap forward.’’

A federal judge must approve the agreement and oversee its implementation. Among its provisions:


P- All officers will be required 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.

P- 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 within two years.

P- The department will be required to completely restructure the system for paying officers for off-duty security details, develop a new report format for collecting data on all stops and searches, and create a recruitment program to increase diversity among its officers.

P- The city and Justice Department will pick a court-supervised monitor to regularly assess and report on the police department’s implementation of the requirements.

P- The city and police department can ask a judge to dissolve the agreement after four years, but only if they can show they have fully complied with its requirements for two years.


The Justice Department has reached similar agreements with police departments in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Detroit. But the scope of the New Orleans consent decree is billed as the broadest of its kind and includes requirements that no other department has had to implement.

For instance, the agreement requires officers to respect that bystanders have a constitutional right to observe and record their conduct in public places. Its ‘‘bias-free policing’’ provisions, which call for creating a policy to guide officers’ interactions with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents, also are believed to be unprecedented for a police department’s consent decree.

Holder said Landrieu and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas did not wait for the agreement to be signed before instituting reforms.

‘‘The problems that we have identified were many years in the making and preceded this current administration,’’ Holder said. ‘‘They are wide-ranging and they are deeply-rooted. Sustainable reform will not occur overnight, but we can all be encouraged that it is already happening here thanks to the leadership of Mayor Landrieu, Chief Serpas, and so many others.’’