New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) called for a quick end to the city police’s federal consent decree Thursday, put in place nearly a decade ago to ensure civil rights.
Cantrell said at a press conference that low morale in the force is driving staffing challenges, tying the problem to what she described as a negative national narrative about police and the federal oversight agreement that went into effect in 2013.
“The consent decree handcuffs our officers by making their jobs harder, pestering them with punitive punishment and burying them with paperwork that is an overburden,” Cantrell said. “It’s too much.”
The police department and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into the consent decree in January 2013 after a DOJ investigation of the force’s alleged pattern of civil rights violations.
Cantrell said she sent a formal notice to DOJ in 2020 in advance of the city seeking to terminate the consent decree. The decree stipulates the city can begin the termination process through the notice if it believes it has been in full and effective compliance for at least two years, and the matter would ultimately end up before a court.
“It seemed like the goal posts would move every time our officers demonstrated real results,” she said. “That it would move every time, keeping us in this consent decree, and I challenged that from day one.”
Cantrell also indicated the city attorney’s office is moving forward with the process in the next two weeks, which will include paperwork formally requesting DOJ release the department from the agreement.
To further improve staff morale, Cantrell and Shaun Ferguson, the city’s police chief, announced they were changing policies to allow facial hair and fingernail polish and recently purchased 75 new Ford Explorers as part of equipment improvements.
“We have a world-class police department, and it is imperative that we ensure every officer feels safe in their jobs and respected on their patrols,” Cantrell said in a statement.
“Nothing is off limits, and everything is under consideration: equipment, vehicles, facilities, operations — all of it,” she said. “I have listened to our officers’ needs, and my administration intends to deliver.”
New Orleans is one of multiple jurisdictions with consent decrees currently in place.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo in 2018 curtailing the use of the agreements as one of his final acts as the nation’s top law enforcement official, arguing they made police departments unjustly hamstrung by civil rights lawyers.