When the New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) presented its audit of the New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) mishandling of sexual assault cases, the results made national headlines and further scandalized the troubled department. Police Chief Michael Harrison assembled a task force to reinvestigate those cases and put the five detectives at the center of the report on desk duty while the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) launched its investigation.
At the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee meeting June 3, Harrison — along with task force commander Paul Noel and PIB chief Arlinda Westbrook — said the investigations are still ongoing. Of the more than 1,200 calls for service assigned to the detectives outlined in the OIG report, 840 were classified "Signal 21," or miscellaneous but did not have any supplemental reports. Noel said that more than 677 of those calls, however, were sex offender checks, in which an officer checks in with a registered sex offender. At the time, NOPD did not have a code to signal a sex offender check, so they were lumped in as "miscellaneous." New NOPD policy labels those calls a Signal 542.
NOPD is reviewing 360 sexual assault cases; 47 have been cleared, whether through an arrest warrant, a suspect already in custody, or pending review by the District Attorney's office. Fifteen cases are still open, but NOPD didn't have enough evidence to move forward with an investigation or arrest.
"This is tough work, but it takes time and we believe we made good progress," Noel said, adding that his task force has put in 4,800 hours reinvestigating the cases. "We're clearing more and more cases every day as we move forward with this process."
Among some of the most troubling cases in the OIG report were Detective Akron Davis' four cases involving young children. Noel said NOPD has not found evidence of trauma or abuse in three of those cases (except one in which NOPD determined an 8-month-old with a skull fracture was accidentally dropped by a 3-year-old sister). Only one — which involved sexual abuse of a juvenile — remains under investigation.
Harrison said NOPD has a new system in place to track, test and store sexual assault DNA collection kits (aka rape kits) and has added a third full-time DNA analyst at the Louisiana State Police crime lab, where those kits are sent for testing. A Sexual Assault Advisory Committee is tasked with preventing a rape kit backlog, developing better training for sexual assault responses, and drafting sexual assault policies, which should be ready this summer.
District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry pressed the panel about why no criminal charges have been filed against the detectives. Westbrook said the PIB investigation is looking into charges of neglect of duty, among other NOPD policy violations, and the investigation's scope now includes those detectives' supervisors.
The Criminal Justice Committee will reconvene in six months for another update from the sex crimes task force.