In New Orleans, Political Brawl Over Police, Jail

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The agreement to make changes at the jail, known as a consent decree, would settle complaints the Southern Poverty Law Center filed on behalf of inmates. The agreement, which was signed by Gusman, is awaiting a judge’s approval.

During the recent court hearing, though, Gusman downplayed problems at the jail.

“I think we’re doing pretty good without the consent decree,” Gusman said, adding that a jail building now under construction with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be a major step in improving conditions.

How much the jail agreement will cost is in dispute and will be the subject of federal hearings in May.

The Landrieu administration, citing one estimate in a court filing, says it could add $22 million annually to the $30.5 million the city already turns over to Gusman to house roughly 1,600 city inmates. The costs would cover medical services, higher pay for deputies and a larger jail staff.

City officials questioned whether he really needs that much money.

“The jail consent decree has undermined our ability to move forward with the costs associated with the police consent decree,” Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said.

The city budgeted about $7 million for this year to begin complying with terms of the changes in the police department, where decades of scandal include the shootings of unarmed civilians in the law-and-order meltdown after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The police reforms could cost in the neighborhood of $50 million over the coming years. The big-ticket items so far include $1.4 million to begin equipping all patrol cars with cameras to better document police, $1.2 million for new computer equipment and $2 million for a monitor’s office that will make sure the police are toeing the following the pact.

While the administration complained the sheriff has asked for excessive funding given a jail population that has been decreasing, Gusman has cited increasing medical costs and the need for more pay for overworked guards.

“The only person who is holding out in moving forward and doing the things we need to do is Mayor Landrieu,” Gusman said in a news release after the city’s latest court filing. “It’s disappointing.”

(Photo: AP)

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