Aug. 29 hearing set on NOPD reform agreement

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal judge has set an Aug. 29 hearing on an agreement the city of New Orleans reached with the Justice Department to overhaul the city's troubled police department.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan's order Tuesday also sets deadlines for those interested in the case to intervene and for the public to file comments on the proposed agreement.

The 124-page agreement is the product of more than a year of negotiations between the city and federal authorities.

It spells out a series of strict requirements for overhauling the police department's policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision. It follows decades of periodic scandals that led to a 2011 Justice Department study that was highly critical of the department.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu heralded the agreement, known as a consent decree, as a blueprint to make the NOPD into a world class police department, while stressing that many of the reforms called for in the agreement are already being implemented.

Attorney General Eric Holder said it represented most sweeping police reforms ever negotiated by the Justice Department. For all the celebration when the agreement was reached last week, there were skeptics and critics.

Although Justice Department and city officials pointed to numerous public meetings held with community members about the agreement, critics complained that various interests were left out of the actual negotiations.

And the attorney for an organization of police officers said officers want what will be required of them more completely detailed. Morgan's order will give such critics with another chance to make their feelings known. Anyone wanting to intervene in the case was given until Aug. 7 to file a motion.

Then, those who oppose any such intervention will have until Aug. 14 to file a response. Otherwise, anyone wishing to comment on the case has until Aug. 24 to file up to 20 pages with the court. Then comes the Aug. 29 hearing.

Although the consent decree is an agreement between the city and Justice officials, on paper it is the result of an adversarial procedure.

The Justice Department filed a complaint against the city under several federal laws including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The consent decree, filed the same day, is proposed to address concerns outlined in the complaint.

Morgan said in her order that, although the parties involved have reached agreement, approval of a consent decree still requires careful consideration on whether it "is fair, adequate and reasonable and is not the product of fraud, collusion, or the like."