One of the primary functions of a city is to keep its citizens safe and secure. If it fails on that front, and residents are unable to carry out their daily activities because they are afraid for their lives and, in some cases, leery of the police themselves, it is very hard for that city to function. Such is the case in New Orleans.


The United States Justice Department spent 10 months investigating the city’s police department, at the mayor’s request, and discovered a deeply dysfunctional and corrupt system, one that regularly abuses its power and the city’s residents.

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu contacted federal officials just after he took office, making good on a campaign promise to clean up the Crescent City’s long dirty police department. The first step? Figuring out just how widespread the problem actually was.

The investigation uncovered some shocking truths about the New Orleans Police Department, truths that reek of racial profiling and discrimination. For every one white person that is arrested in the city, 16 Blacks are arrested and calls for police assistance by non-English speakers were often unanswered.

But the troubling news doesn’t stop there. Reports of the use of excessive force by officers are widespread and the department has been accused of failing to investigate serious crimes.

So what’s next for the NOPD? How does this troubled department ‘make it right’?

Obviously, city officials can’t be trusted to do this alone; they’ve dropped the ball for far too long. Federal oversight is necessary to help clean up the department and manage it until it proves it can manage itself properly.

New Orleans has made great progress since Hurricane Katrina roared in, causing billions in damage and taking thousands of lives. But the city, with all of its history and culture, cannot be truly great—or say it has rebounded—until its police department gets on the right side of the law.

(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)

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