There are not too many legislative initiatives that Congressman Cedric Richmond and all seven members of the City Council agree on, but the opportunity for the Office of the Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson to become more independent is one of them.
Led by Councilmember Jared Brossett with support by Councilmember LaToya Cantrell, the Council unanimously approved that Proposition 1 be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. It will separate the Police Monitor, the Inspector General and the Ethics Review Board and will have no additional fiscal impact on the City’s budget.
Voters should feel confident that this ballot initiative, an ongoing part of ethics reform, will increase transparency and accountability for all three offices. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said he is not opposing the proposition. Though he would probably prefer the three operate as a single unit, Landrieu has bigger fish to fry with other ballot propositions.
A former defense attorney and native of Houston, Texas, Hutson gained valuable experience in field of monitoring while an assistant city attorney in Austin, Texas and later working with the Los Angeles Police Department. She came to New Orleans in 2010 to begin the local program.
“My office is tasked with ensuring public safety for everyone,” said Hutson. “We help improve police services to the community by increasing trust between the NOPD and the public while also improving the officers’ safety and working conditions.”
Hutson and her staff provide civilian oversight to the NOPD making sure investigations are conducted properly and police officers and their supervisors held accountable. They also bears responsibility for sustaining the NOPD’s Consent Decree reforms. Reviewing and strengthening NOPD internal policies is an important part of their work. “The community can count on us to listen to their concerns and incorporate them into changes in police policy,” Hutson said.
Hutson says her staff has worked very hard in monitoring “critical incidents” where police officers’ use of force has lead to shootings, head injuries and victims being hospitalized. ” We step in to diffuse tense situations. Shootings are down and that is a good thing,” Hutson explained.
New Orleans police monitoring program is a nationally recognized model, especially for its mediation system. “The Department of Justice has called upon us to assist in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore,” she said. The NOPD also is “ahead of the curve” with their superior website, open data and reporting systems. “The public can go online and easily find the information they need.”
Hutson says that the quality of investigations conducted by the NOPD — especially shooting investigations — is getting “so much better,” though there is still room for improvements. “It is the nature of the business for NOPD officers to be suspicious of us. Officers should know that we will look at each case objectively. We want to help them succeed through policing practices that are ethical, constitutional and professional.” Hutson says she has the highest respect for Chief Michael Harrison and his district commanders, many of whom she has watched come up through the ranks.
The passage of Proposition 1 will give Hutson the opportunity to better control the reports she prepares, to achieve financial independence, and to make critical operational and programming decisions. Hutson plans to quickly hire an auditor who will assist with risk management and help create a strategic plan. She also plans to bring on a complaint intake specialist to better serve the public. “Additional staff will provide me the opportunity to be out in the community more where I can listen to citizen needs,” she said.
Though Hutson’s relationship with Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux has often been rocky, Quatrevaux gave her a warm introduction at yesterday’s Senior Voter Caucus. Operationally and financially separating the three ethics entities is in the best interest of the public and will make each more fully accountable to the voters. Early voting begins Tuesday, October 25.
COUNCILMEMBER CANTRELL FETED FRIDAY NIGHT AT HALLOWEEN “THRILLER”
Councilmember LaToya Cantrell will talk about her future plans at a Halloween themed fundraiser Friday night at the French Quarter mansion of Darlene Jacobs. Costumes are not required for this night of frolic and fun at the historic House Of Rising Sun.
Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by her public relations firm are Foster Campbell, Regina Bartholomew, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.