Same Victims; Different Government Failure

[Trigger warning for police corruption; multiple institutional prejudices; rape culture.]

Shaker Anitanola emailed me a heads-up about the report issued by federal investigators following a nearly year-long Justice Department investigation of the New Orleans police department. The Times-Picayune describes the report (viewable here) as "blistering."
Federal investigators who have spent the past 10 months delving into the New Orleans Police Department found routine constitutional violations in several areas of policing in the city, according to a blistering report released this morning by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Officers were too quick to use excessive force on the streets and, too often, neglected to document such use of force after the fact. The investigations that followed were inadequate, even in the most serious cases, when an officer fired his gun, the Justice Department found.

New Orleans police also routinely stop people without any legal basis for doing so, often conducting "pat-down" searches that don't meet the requirements of federal law, investigators concluded.
And, much like the neglected levees ensured the most vulnerable population in the city were most effected by Hurricane Katrina, the police department's multiple failures have disproportionately affected marginalized populations:
The patterns of policing in New Orleans are biased against several demographic groups, including black residents, people who don't speak English fluently, gay and transgendered people and women, the report says.

Additionally, the sex-crimes unit was singled out for criticism after investigators found "the unit's deficiencies are deep."
In many cases, detectives conducted victim interviews with the seeming aim of categorizing the allegations as false, according to the review. The report suggests many more complaints might need to be reinvestigated.

Until recently, the NOPD had an "unofficial" policy of not interviewing sexual assault suspects, even if the suspect was identified by a victim, which meant cases were built almost exclusively around the victim's testimony. However, the new commander of the unit has changed this de facto policy -- which is not typical of American police departments -- and he has purchased video equipment for an interrogation room.

...The authors found disconcerting patterns in a series of sexual assault complaints categorized as "Signal 21s," or "miscellaneous incidents." Detectives often emphasized inconsistent statements by victims or gaps in memory, while expressing doubt about their credibility or motives for fabricating an attack, the report said. Detectives seemed to believe many stereotypes about how victims of sexual assault behave.
Also singled out: The domestic violence unit, which is staffed with only three officers in total, which "means investigators too often don't interview witnesses, according to the report."

The neglect of the sex crimes and domestic violence units were so severe that, because the crimes disproportionately affect women, the units' collective failure was "the basis for the Justice Department's findings that the NOPD violates the constitutional rights of women by not properly investigating allegations of violence against them."

The New Orleans police department says it's instituting changes. How reassuring.

I hope for the sake of my sisters and brothers in New Orleans, that promise actually means something. And that, if it doesn't, the Justice Department makes sure changes happen anyway.

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