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Judge approves sweeping New Orleans police reforms

NEW ORLEANS A federal judge on Friday approved a sweeping agreement between the Justice Department and the city of New Orleans designed to clean up the city's troubled Police Department.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan's ruling says the consent decree is "fair, adequate and reasonable." But her ruling also says the city informed her that it intends to file a motion "seeking relief from the judgment entered in connection with this order."

The nine-page order doesn't specify why the city plans to do that. A spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a lawyer for the city didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

The court-supervised agreement would require the Police Department to overhaul its policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.

Landrieu has estimated the city will pay roughly $11 million annually for the next four or five years to implement the changes. Morgan's order says the city has committed adequate funding to do so.

The agreement resolves the Justice Department's allegations that New Orleans police officers engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional activity.

Morgan heard testimony about the consent decree at a "fairness hearing" in September. At the time, then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten called it a blueprint for the "rebirth of the entire city of New Orleans."

Some critics had urged Morgan to order some changes to the agreement. Susan Hutson, the city's independent police monitor, said the consent decree should give her office a larger role in the reform process. The agreement calls for picking a different, court-supervised monitor to regularly assess and report on the department's adherence to the requirements.

Lawyers for two groups representing rank-and-file officers expressed concern that the consent decree could chip away at civil-service protections, might force officers to work longer hours without overtime pay and would bar officers from using pepper spray.

The Justice Department has reached similar agreements with police departments in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland and Detroit. But the New Orleans consent decree is broader in scope than the others and includes requirements that no other department has had to implement.

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