The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is considering a civil rights lawsuit against the New Orleans Police Department, the blog Talking Points Memo reported Tuesday.
“Criminal prosecutions alone, I have learned, are not enough to change the culture of a police department,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez told TPM. He added that the division was considering “every conceivable jurisdictional option and every conceivable intervention.”
“The attorney general, myself, the U.S. attorney — we will not leave the New Orleans Police Department until we have addressed the systemic issues and have ensured that the department is operating in a manner that reduces crime and respects the rule of law,” Perez said. “We can, must, and will do both.”
The Department of Justice currently has at least eight open civil rights investigations into the New Orleans Police Department, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Since 2008, the Justice Department has been investigating a post-Hurricane Katrina shooting in which New Orleans police officers allegedly shot at unarmed civilians in the wake of the 2005 hurricane that devastated the city. Three officers so far have pleaded guilty to involvement in the shooting at the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans or in the subsequent cover-up.
Perez visited the city in March for an update on the investigation. During that visit, Perez called the New Orleans Police Department “profoundly troubled.”
“One observation that’s inescapable is that the department has a litany of very, very serious challenges,” Perez told The Associated Press. “There are not quick fixes to transforming a culture,” he said. “Culture change takes time. Culture change takes perseverance. There’s no quick fix to that, but it can be done. I’ve seen that in other departments.”
According to TPM, the Civil Rights Division could bring a civil rights lawsuit under a 1991 law passed in the wake of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. If the Justice Department could prove a “pattern or practice” of disregarding the law or constitutional rights, it could seek a consent decree that would allow it to step in and institute changes. In 2000, the DOJ reached a similar deal with the city of Los Angeles.