To curb police corruption that worsened after hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to take advantage of an upswell of community activism and concern. But some residents say the police department won't be reformed unless New Orleans confronts the conditions that police officers in this quasi-Caribbean city face every day. An insouciant attitude toward real societal problems in part contributes to the problems at the police department, they suggest.
"The police in New Orleans very much have a laissez-faire attitude," says Julie Smith, the New Orleans-based crime author. "And I think it has to do with the whole way they were brought up, the way we all are here. They're products of the city as much as any of us are."
The Justice Department report faulted the police force's recruitment and training, and identified crime-reporting procedures that repeatedly glossed over serious crimes or omitted them altogether. Investigators also found that New Orleans police officers often use deadly or physical force (such as baton strikes, pepper spray, punches, and arm twisting) when it's not warranted, and even in "retaliatory" ways. Investigations of such cases tend to be cursory and incomplete, the DOJ said.
Racial profiling is also a problem, the DOJ found. For every 16 blacks arrested, one white person was arrested, it noted. Even the city's canine units are out of control, with some of animals behaving so aggressively they had bitten their handlers, the report found.
The investigation did not include cases of post-Katrina police criminality, in which 20 city police officers face trials for a variety of serious crimes, including murder.