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By Charles Maldonado August 20, 2015

COPS money and a consent decree for New Orleans police

Violent crime increased 27 percent in New Orleans from 2013 to 2014. Its homicide rate consistently ranks it as one of the deadliest cities in the country. The New Orleans Police Department now employs about 1,150 officers, compared to more than 1,700 before Katrina.

And the city has turned to outside agencies and privately funded off-duty cops to patrol the French Quarter.

However, the New Orleans Police Department is in the middle of a transition. And the Obama administration has done its share to aid the troubled department by offering money to hire officers, providing federal personnel and spearheading a sweeping reform program.

In the years after Katrina, the NOPD's ranks swelled to nearly what they were before the storm — 1,546 sworn officers by 2009. But between 2010 and 2015, it lost about 400.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has criticized the federal government for curtailing its COPS program, which funds hiring of new officers.

However, the city has received COPS grants nearly every year since he took office in 2010, according to Department of Justice grant announcements. Between 2011 and 2014, the NOPD received nearly $7 million, supporting 50 officers.

It's true that the NOPD is getting less than during the Clinton era. According to a 2010 report on COPS grants awarded to Louisiana agencies, the NOPD got about $6.3 million in 1995 and 1996 alone. That paid for more than 100 officers.

But the city is getting a lot more than it did under the Bush administration, which decreased funding for the COPS program. The NOPD didn't get a single COPS hiring grant during Bush's two terms in office. During that period, the city had far more officers than now.

In 2009, Obama's first year in office, the federal government revived the program and gave the city $2.5 million.

The problem with police department staffing was the city budget. When Landrieu came into office, he inherited a massive deficit from his predecessor Mayor Ray Nagin. He responded with a citywide hiring freeze and furloughs for city employees.

Police pay raises were put on hold until late 2014, when officers saw their first across-the-board increase in eight years. For several years, the city lost more officers to attrition than it hired.

Meanwhile, federal agencies have continued to partner with local law enforcement. A previous update on this pledge mentioned the Violent Crimes Task Force, which started in 2009. Since then, the Multi-Agency Gang Unit has been created, a partnership between the police, the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI, DEA, ATF and several other local and federal agencies.

FBI agents now assist in internal investigations at NOPD, working directly with officers in the Public Integrity Bureau. In July, the FBI deputized three police officers to assist in federal investigations of civil rights violations by the police department. The FBI has also trained and certified police academy instructors.

The most important initiative undertaken by Obama's Justice Department isn't part of this campaign pledge: the sweeping reform of the police department brought about by a federal lawsuit over police abuses.

At Landrieu's urging, the Justice Department conducted an investigation of the police department and identified widespread constitutional violations, including corruption, discrimination and police brutality.

In 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a proposed reform package, calling it the most wide-ranging police consent decree in history. The agreement covers nearly every aspect of local policing, from the use of force to off-duty assignments for officers.

The reforms mandated by the consent decree are a financial burden on the city — more than $50 million over five years. Still, if it works as intended, it will make a long-troubled police force more effective and responsive to the public.

Between the consent decree, the numerous examples of federal assistance to local police, and the COPS grants awarded on Obama's watch, we rank this Promise Kept.

Editor's note: On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, PolitiFact has partnered with The Lens to report on President Barack Obama's campaign promises about the storm's impact on New Orleans. The Lens is a nonprofit, public-interest newsroom that covers the New Orleans area.

Our Sources

U.S. Justice Department reports on COPS grants 2010-2014

U.S. Justice Department report on Louisiana grant funding through 2010

Metropolitan Crime Commission: Orleans Parish Criminal Justice System Accountability Report

Gambit, "Paying for the Consent Decree," Aug. 14, 2012

WVUE-TV, "Holder unveils NOPD reforms," Aug. 7, 2012

U.S. Justice Department, Investigation of the New Orleans Police Department, March 16, 2011

The Lens, "Live blog: Federal judge holding hearing to discuss NOPD consent decree," Feb. 23, 2015

Federal Bureau of Investigation, "FBI Deputizes Three NOPD PIB Officers as Task Force Officers to Assist in Federal Civil Rights Investigations," July 2, 2015

City of New Orleans, "Mayor Landrieu announces multi-agency gang unit of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to combat group violence," Nov. 8, 2012

WWL-TV, "NOPD loses 2.5 times number of officers it has recruited this year," July 8, 2014

Times-Picayune, "New Orleans' hiring freeze is not absolute, but there are reasons for the exceptions," Nov. 14, 2011

Times-Picayune, "New Orleans faces a $62 million deficit for 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu estimates," June 21, 2010

USA Today, "10 years and $10B later, COPS drawing scrutiny," April 10, 2005

The Lens, "Day 2 of 2016 budget town hall meetings in New Orleans," July 14, 2015

New York Times, "Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans?" July 30, 2015

New Orleans Advocate, "At NOPD, mixed views on State Police presence in city," Feb. 7, 2015

New Orleans Advocate, "New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison tells City Council department ranks are no longer shrinking," Aug. 1, 2015

The Lens, "Fact check: Drop in New Orleans homicides not as simple as Landrieu portrays," May 14, 2014

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley August 31, 2009

More cops, thanks to COPS

We've identified more than a dozen promises that Barack Obama made that were targeted to New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast that were hit by Hurricane Katrina. This promise addresses the need for more police protection.

The New Orleans Police Department is back to full strength, and the National Guard ended its three-and-a-half year deployment in early March. But the Guard's departure might be as much a response to a state budget shortfall as to the local police presence.

Obama's promise included a pledge to hire police that had been dubbed "COPS for Katrina." Although there is no special program by that name, the Obama-backed economic stimulus plan included nearly $160 million in federal Community Oriented Policing Services money for 173 law enforcement agencies in the Gulf Coast states. The White House says that led to 867 police officers being hired throughout the region. It also included $22.8 million in Violence Against Women formula grant awards and $18.1 million in assistance for victims of crime in the region. 

As for an integrated regional crime control partnership, that part is done. White House officials said the New Orleans Violent Crime Task Force began operations in April 2009. The Task Force, headed by the FBI, is composed of representatives from the New Orleans Police Department; the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office; the Kenner Police Department; the Louisiana State Police; the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to White House officials, the task force leverages federal and local law enforcement resources and focuses on the shootings, aggravated assaults, and murder occurring most frequently in the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th Police Districts of New Orleans.

 So let's review. The New Orleans department is at full strength and the National Guard has left (although it seems as much a reflection of budget cuts as a surge in local police). Obama's "COPS for Katrina" promise has hired 867 officers. And he has created the regional crime control partnership.

We think that qualifies as a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

White House, Fact Sheet: Background on Gulf Coast Recovery and Nationwide Disaster Preparedness and Response Efforts

Times-Picayune, "Editorial: Task Force Gator's farewell," March 4, 2009

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