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Chief says NOPD's reforms working
By Brendan McCarthy
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley announced at a news conference Monday that departmental changes put in place following a consultant's comprehensive report are "beginning to show results."
Earlier this year, privately financed consultant Lee Brown conducted a six-month assessment of the department, which later became the blueprint for wholesale NOPD reform and a move toward "community policing," a law enforcement style that engages citizens and seeks to solve quality-of-life issues in conjunction with traditional crime-fighting.
On Monday, Riley said the department has appointed a 25-member task force to analyze and implement specific changes, and he highlighted some of the reforms made since the blueprint was released nearly six months ago.
"We are well under way in our progress and still have some distance to go," Riley said.
One recent change is that the citizens have been more apt to call and connect with police, Riley said.
"We believe we've broken down some of those barriers," he said.
Riley mum on weaknesses
The consultants used the input to create a 250-page assessment of the agency. The findings detailed a department debilitated by low morale, weak command-and-control, and a lack of money, staff and equipment, according to draft documents obtained by The Times-Picayune, which are available on nola.com.
They found that overtaxed officers struggle under pressure to accomplish more with less staff, time and money. The assessment also repeatedly highlights a disconnect between Riley and his command staff.
In July the NOPD released publicly the assessment's final product, a "plan of action," based on the consultant's work. But that document gave no insight into to the agency's current state: NOPD brass and consultants had edited out a slew of findings by the consultants and the agency's own officers, who pointed out systemic weaknesses.
Riley declined Monday to comment on the weaknesses of his department that were identified in draft versions of the consultant's report.
Riley instead sought to identify improvements made since the report's completion. For example, police have improved long-strained relations with the community by increasing walking beats. Riley said his command staff meets once a week and walks beats with district officers.
Cameras, maps, recruiting
However, it was unclear how many of the NOPD's recent reforms can be attributed to the Brown assessment. A majority of the improvements Riley outlined Monday had already been under way or completed before the release of the consultant's report.
For example, leaders noted that the agency has installed 85 of 109 planned cameras in police radio cars. The department bought the cameras, which are swivel-mounted on the dashboard of squad cars, this spring, using an $800,000 state grant.
Another reform, online crime maps, were used several years ago and reincarnated by the department this spring. Riley also cited the NOPD's improved recruiting efforts, ramped up with billboard and radio ads earlier this year, another measure seemingly unrelated to the sweeping recommendations in the consultant's report.
The department expects to graduate one of the largest recruit classes in the department's history, Riley said. Officials Monday also lauded steps to form a Crisis Intervention Team, which had been in the planning process for years.
The crux of the Brown assessment was to shift the department toward community policing, a philosophy that relies on officers stepping beyond their traditional crime-fighting roles to forge better relations with the community and other government agencies. Such collaborations thrust police into a lead role in helping solve societal problems that contribute to crime, from blighted housing to broken streetlights to a lack of social services or youth recreation programs.
The NOPD is working on improvements to the crime lab, vehicle fleet and its internal communication system, Riley said. As far as long-term changes, officials are hoping to tweak evidence management, performance appraisal measures and district boundaries.
Riley offered no timetable on instituting the reforms in the report.
Watchdog group weighs in
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the nonprofit watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said it's important that the systemic, "big-picture" reforms aren't left by the wayside and clouded by other initiatives.
"I see reforms that you can write a check for, that will make the department more efficient," he said. "But what I don't see right now is changes in policies and training initiatives."
Goyeneche has seen the department over the years poked and prodded and studied countless times by consultants and academics.
"I hope this isn't sent to the reform-plan graveyard," he said. "But we need aspirational goals, timelines and regular updates to make sure this works."
Working on a $238,000 contract financed by a consortium of business groups, consultants interviewed more than 200 local law enforcement members and compiled countless questionnaires, all filled out anonymously by participants.
Peter Scharf, a Texas State University professor who has long studied New Orleans crime, said the push for reform marks a sea change among NOPD sentiment.
"The NOPD is the ultimate closed-door organization," Scharf said. "If they can address most of these reforms, they would totally turn things around in the city."
Copyright 2007 New Orleans Times-Picayune
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