Today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the U.S. Department of Justice and the New Orleans Police Department have agreed on a package of reforms to re-make the Police Department top to bottom. In a story detailing the reforms, the Times-Picayune reported that under the agreement, which will take the form of a consent decree that must be approved by a federal judge:
the NOPD will be forced to address numerous deficiencies, most of which the U.S. Department of Justice highlighted last year in a withering critique of virtually every aspect of the force…Among the changes outlined in the decree: how cops must conduct traffic stops, searches and arrests; how they examine officer use of force; and how they interrogate citizens. Unlike now, officers will be required to audiotape and videotape every suspect interview…
The NOPD — a department with problems so deep that officers have been convicted of the most serious crimes imaginable, as well as a variety of more standard misconduct — will get institution-wide reforms. Over the past fifteen years, there have been similar consent decrees in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, the New Jersey State Police, and others departments. The Department of Justice can do this under its authority contained in the pattern or practice law, 42 U.S.C. 14141.
But this consent decree contains something that did not show up in all of the others: the requirement that officers audio and video tape every suspect interview. This is something that comes directly out of the influence of the many wrongful convictions brought to light over the last decade. As I say in Failed Evidence, recording suspect interrogations is the number one step that police and prosecutors must take in order to address the problem of suspects in custody confessing to crimes they did not commit. We used to think this was rare. But it occurs in 25 percent of all of the wrongful conviction cases.
So the consent decree here can help remake the NOPD. But its also a step in the right direction on wrongful convictions, and the faulty evidence that lets them happen.