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New Orleans mayor seeks federal help to fix police

Former police chief Warren Riley resigned Monday

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The new mayor of New Orleans asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday to send a team to help overhaul the city's corruption-plagued police department, which already is the subject of several federal investigations.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu requested a team from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in a letter sent two days after he took office. Landrieu has also said he plans to announce his choice for a new police chief this week. Former chief Warren Riley resigned Monday with the advent of the new administration.

"It is clear that nothing short of a complete transformation is necessary and essential to ensure safety for the citizens of New Orleans," Landrieu said in the letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The Justice Department is reviewing Landrieu's request to decide whether action is appropriate, spokesman Alejandro Miyar said Wednesday.

The head of its Civil Rights Division said during a March visit to New Orleans that he was troubled by the state of the department. During that trip, Assistant Attorney General E. Thomas Perez met with Landrieu to discuss overhauling the department.

Federal authorities are investigating several instances of alleged police wrongdoing including 2008 barroom brawl and the New Year's Day 2009 shooting of a man who, his family says, was unarmed.

The most sensational of the cases involves the shootings of civilians, including two who died, at New Orleans' Danziger Bridge in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Four former police officers have pleaded guilty to federal charges in a coverup of the Danziger case that included the planting of a weapon.

Rafael Goyeneche, head of an independent watchdog group, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, applauded Landrieu's move, saying it shows that the new mayor is eager to transform the department. Goyeneche speculated that the federal government could intervened whether Landrieu wanted their help or not because of the ongoing investigations.

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