The Frayed Blue Line

This is a piece I wrote formy blog and posted this morning. It’s geared to my NOLA readership so let me provide some context. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s violent crime and police misconduct were endemic.Marc Morialwas elected Mayor of New Orleans in 1994 and promised to clean house at the NOPD and hire a reform minded police chief. He did:Richard Pennington was hired and got rid of 1/3 of the force he inherited. Modern crime fighting techniques such as COMSTAT were brought in and the murder rate was halved. Pennington left office in 2002 after an unsuccessful run for Mayor. He went to be police chief in Atlanta where things didn’t go as well. End of introduction and on to the main post:

Other than abrief post at First Draft,
I haven’t weighed in on the Danziger Bridge case. It’s not because I
lack strong opinions but because I wanted to think my way through that
particular maze. It’s a murky mess, folks, but one thing is clear: the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth must come out. And not
only about the Danziger Bridge case but about all the excesses that
happened post-K and subsequently.

I
hate this situation. I know quite a few cops and they’re good guys and,
even better, good poleese. The rest of the force runs the gamut of
humanity from cretins to shit heels to thieves to careerists to those
who are mixed bags. In my estimation, any large organization will
usually have up to 20% assholes: the key is for management and the
other 80% to rein them in. The NOPD’s AQ (asshole quotient) seems to
have exploded post-K to more like 40%, which may be higher than the 1/3
of the force fired or forced out when Pennington and company cleaned
house.

Why have things gotten so
bad after the reforms of the 1990’s? Reform is an ongoing process and
things changed dramatically when Nagin was elected Mayor. Both of
Nagin’s chiefs, Eddie Compass and Warren Riley placed a premium on
loyalty, which is a prescription for disaster when the shit hits the
fan. I have mixed feelings about Compass, he was an oustanding street
cop who was fatally miscast as Chief. Like so many others, he cracked
under the pressure of the 2005 disaster and lost control of the force.
Riley superficially regained control but NOPD has never recovered
moralewise from its stint in hell.

From
the outside, Riley seems to have made a deal with his troops about what
happened post-K: punish the “deserters” but sweep everything else under
the rug because they were under such extreme pressure. In short, Riley
is sort of a one mantruth and reconciliation commission.
But instead of airing problems and working towards understanding the
horrendous conditions that made cops crack, he turned a blind eye in
exchange for their loyalty. A police force run on loyalty instead of
professionalism will inevitably cover up for one another and won’t
inspire whistle blowers to break ranks and tell the truth. Why stick
your neck out when it will be career suicide? That’s the mess we find
ourselves in.

I’ve heard
conflicting things about Lt. Lohman, the investigating officer who pled
guilty to obstruction of justice. Some say that he was good poleese who
felt intense guilt and decided to spill his guts for that reason.
Others say that he copped a plea to get the best deal he could when it
became obvious that the cover up was unraveling. At this point, I’m not
sure what to think. The one thing I’m sure of is that the culture of
loyalty over professionalism cultivated by Warren Riley is the reason
that a story that didn’t pass the smell test turned into the official
story.Riley is now shocked, shocked
by Lohman’s confession and claims to have never read the dishonest
report. Repeat after me: deniability. Riley is getting his defense
ready in case he’s in the dock himself some day.

Where
do we go from here? As I said earlier, the truth of all the post-K NOPD
horrors needs to come out and the worst offenders should be fired and
prosecuted. But as a practical matter, we cannot fire the entire police
force and start from scratch. People need to stop thinking that police
corruption is like a virus that contaminates everyone: it’s more
individualized than that, the majority of cops ignore it and pretend
that it’s not happening. Deniability leads to denial.

The most important thing is to return a culture of professionalism to
NOPD whereby cops are more likely to be penalized for NOT reporting
misconduct rather than thinking “why should I stick my neck out.” The
good news is that Warren Riley will be gone soon. His replacement has
an enormous and unenviable task. They may well have to fire and/or
discipline as many cops as Pennington did when he took over. The most
important thing is to reduce the AQ (asshole quotient) and get it under
15-20%, there’s nothing worse than an asshole with a gun and the power
of arrest. It can be done because it has been done before. The real
shame is that it has to be done all over again. Let’s hope NOPD
sustains the reforms this time around or we could find ourselves back
in the same mess the next time the keys to City Hall change hands.

4 thoughts on “The Frayed Blue Line

  1. Police state says:

    By any definition, any police force that is not monitored by civilians who have the power to subpoena, to suspend, to fire and to prosecute rogue cops is automatically a police state.
    Sorry, but from what I’m reading New Orleans qualifies as a police state.

  2. coldH2Owi says:

    That was quite a tap dance. Any place where a cop wears his/her uniform & sits on a bench outside a cafe as security, after putting in a full shift I suppose, isn’t a place where good policing is happening. I love New Orleans, but as far as your cops go, most of them need to be fired. & why just the cursory references to the cop murderers? You afraid of something?

  3. Adrastos says:

    Afraid of something? Nope. This was more a prescription for going forward than anything else.

  4. liprap says:

    We know what the problems are down here, coldH2Owi. We just haven’t been able to make the solutions stick. This is another chance we’ve been given to move forward and to keep moving in that direction. That’s where Adrastos’ post, and most of the posts concerning the Danziger Bridge revelations, are coming from.

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