The New Orleans City Council Chamber has seen bigger crowds than Wednesday afternoon’s. But rarely is the audience more poised to pounce than it was during a council committee meeting looking at the NOPD’s use of field interview cards, called F-I-C, and allegations of racial profiling on the part of the department.
Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and the OIG’s Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson told council members about their investigation into the department’s practices.
Much of the meeting was cordial, but not all of it.
While the NOPD agreed with many of the findings of the investigators, Superintendent Ronal Serpas clearly felt many of the findings were old news and already being addressed.
“I think it took them about 18 months to tell us what the DOJ told us after investigating us for a year,” Serpas said, referring to a federal investigation that began more than three years ago.
But Hutson later addressed Serpas’ comment by saying, “Our department, as the chief noted, encompassed a long period of time. It encompassed information before, during, and after the consent decree. So it’s more up to date than the DOJ findings.”
The investigation look at, among other things, the departments use of FICs. Quatrevaux said his office could have determined if the NOPD relied on racial profiling to make stops and conduct the field interviews if the cards contained more information about the stops.
Serpas responded to Quatrevaux’s comments by saying he is in the process of procuring funds to improve the FICs. Serpas says the department wants to improve the cards to allow the officers to make more specific notes regarding their stops rather than basically checking off boxes of information or general categories.
When council members allowed public comments, one man accused the council of protecting the NOPD. He particularly focused some of his remarks on Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson who defended herself.
“I am not on trial here,” she said bringing a jeering response from the crowd.
Clarkson followed up by telling the crowd to, “Hush,” which brought even more cries and complaints.
“You’re out of your damn mind,” one person in the crowd responded.
Among the more debated issues is the collection by NOPD officers of the Social Security numbers of the people they stop and question for F-I-Cs.
Long time community activist Lloyd Lazard told the council during public comments, “I want to know why it is that a social security number goes on a F-I-C.”
When asked later about the practice by WGNO News, Serpas said divulging the information was voluntary. “If somebody doesn’t want to do it, the officer doesn’t take it.”
But Marjorie Esman of the ACLU told the council that people who are stopped and questioned by police are often very nervous and hardly feel they have the option of answering questions.
“Most people don’t know that they have the right to say yes I do mind and please don’t.”