By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS, Jan 11 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday
approved a U.S. Justice Department agreement with New Orleans
calling for sweeping changes to the city's police department,
which has been accused of widespread abuses from discriminatory
searches to excessive force.
The consent decree includes requiring the New Orleans Police
Department to remain under the scrutiny of a court-approved
monitor for several years.
New Orleans has struggled with a persistently high rate of
murder and other violent crime for years. Also, in the past two
years federal prosecutors have won convictions in more than a
dozen cases involving police brutality against private citizens.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan gave the city until Jan. 31
to file an intended motion seeking relief from her order.
A spokesman for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu could not
be reached for comment but he has previously estimated that
complying with the Justice Department's order would cost the
city $11 million annually for several years.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced a mandate for
sweeping change at the police department last July after what he
described as "one of the most extensive investigations" of a law
enforcement agency the Justice Department had ever conducted.
The scathing Justice Department report found numerous
procedural and operational shortcomings in the police
department. Those included unlawful searches, excessive force
and discriminatory policing practices.
Federal and city officials negotiated for months to reach
the consent decree, which includes changes to department
policies from use of force to interrogations and lineups,
recruiting, training and misconduct investigations.
Landrieu invited federal scrutiny of the department shortly
after taking office in 2010. He and Police Superintendent Ronal
Serpas both said last summer they welcomed the Justice
Department's order and said the city had already begun to make
some of the changes the federal government had sought.
Morgan said in her order that the monitor will be an
independent entity. The court has not yet approved a monitor.
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