HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States
New Orleans:

Civilian Review
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The Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI) was created in 1981 and is staffed by civilians. It has five investigators, two clerical staff, and a director; three investigators are former New Orleans police officers.41 The OMI investigates complaints against all city employees, with complaints against the police making up more than half of its caseload. During 1995 and 1996, the office received approximately 250 complaints alleging police misconduct (including incidents involving forty weapons discharges), down from 300-400 received in previousyears; as noted above, there was then an increase in complaints during much of 1997.42 The OMI retains the more serious cases (but sends possibly criminal allegations to the Public Integrity Division) with minor discourtesy allegations sent to the police district to handle; it does not investigate off-duty misconduct. It has subpoena power and considers itself "an honest broker."43

Complaint intake at the OMI is imperfect. Police stations, where most individuals attempt to file complaints, reportedly refer cases to the Public Integrity Division (PID), not to the OMI. The OMI does little community outreach and relies upon high-profile cases and mention of the OMI in the press to inform the public of its existence. Even if it learns of a serious violation, it is prohibited from proactively launching an investigation in the absence of a complaint.

In the cases where it does receive a complaint and the OMI investigator sustains it, the investigator's findings are sent to the OMI's Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), and if the CAO agrees, it is sent to the police superintendent or his designee, who has thirty days to respond in writing regarding what, if any, action has been taken by the department. The OMI is prohibited from making disciplinary recommendations.44

The OMI publishes an annual report. As of April 1998, the 1996 report was still not available.45 During 1995, approximately 200 complaints were either investigated by OMI or referred to the police department for investigation. That year, fifteen complaints against the police were sustained, but the OMI's reports do not distinguish between sustained complaints alleging brutality or more minor offenses.46 The OMI representative did not know the sustained rate for police misconduct complaints, but noted that it is more difficult to sustain complaints against officers than other city employees because they always have legalrepresentation.47 According to the OMI's report, of the fifteen sustained complaints of all types against the police, one resulted in a fifteen-day suspension, one in a letter of reprimand, one officer resigned, and in twelve cases the department did not provide information to OMI, in apparent violation of policy. OMI's reports lack racial, age, gender or district breakdowns of parties involved in incidents. They do not describe trends or any policy recommendations made by the office.

The City Attorney's office uses OMI files when it needs to defend officers in civil lawsuits. OMI does a background check of the complainant when it receives a complaint, although it is unclear why a criminal or other background should affect investigation of a complaint. OMI staff are sent to every police shooting but are not involved in determining whether a shooting was justified.

Despite the troubled state of the police department, when a Human Rights Watch investigator visited the OMI office on a weekday afternoon in late 1995, the office was absolutely silent, no phones were ringing, and some staffers were playing computer video games. Although this was a random visit and may not reflect the typical operations of the office, the stillness of the office seemed out of sync with the investigations that would seem necessary in the city.

41 Telephone interview with Peter Munster, director, OMI, September 5, 1997.

42 Munster stated that the number of complaints in 1996 was similar to those in the 1995 OMI report; no 1996 report was available as of September 1997.

43 Interview with Peter Munster, October 26, 1995.

44 June 12, 1984 Chief Administrative Office Policy Memorandum No. 50, Sec. VI (B)] The OMI can also accept "appeals" from citizens who believe a PID investigation was incomplete or flawed. Although the OMI told Human Rights Watch that it can review PID investigations, a PID representative stated this was not the case. Interview with Lt. Charles Schlosser, PID, October 27, 1995.

45 Telephone inquiry with OMI, April 9, 1998.

46 This number includes cases investigated or complaints filed from previous years.

47 Telephone interview, OMI director Peter Munster, September 5, 1997.

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© June 1998
Human Rights Watch