- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The mayor of New Orleans says hundreds of rape and child abuse cases that went largely ignored by five police detectives over a three-year period will be reopened and thoroughly investigated.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday that a special team of police officers would reopen hundreds of mishandled cases uncovered by a city inspector general’s audit that was released last week. The report charged five detectives failed to do substantial investigation of more than 1,000 sex crimes and child abuse cases.

“I can’t express how angry and frustrated I am about the findings in this report,” Landrieu said. He called the accusations against the detectives “a disgrace.”

The inspector general’s report found that the detectives classified 65 percent of the cases they received as “miscellaneous,” for which no report at all was written. The inspectors said those cases could not be examined due to the “total void of information.”

The report identified 271 other cases where the detectives did some initial investigative work but failed to file a follow-up report. Police said the new task force would focus first on reopening those cases.

The five detectives whose investigations are under scrutiny have been placed on desk duty. Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said they face disciplinary action and possible criminal charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice previously investigated the scandal-plagued police force and in 2012 the city agreed to a host of changes in its policies. The federal probe found the police force was rife with corruption and had numerous instances of excessive use of deadly force, discrimination and problems with its sex crimes unit. A federal monitor is overseeing compliance.

Landrieu said that when he became mayor in 2010 the sex crimes division was “failing” and that “more than 800 rape kits sat on the shelf collecting dust.” Rape kits form the forensic basis of investigations into alleged sexual assaults.

The mayor took credit for overhauling the sex crimes unit, clearing the backlog in rape kit analysis and bringing about an atmosphere where more women reported sex crimes and police generally investigated more sex crime cases.

But the mayor acknowledged that serious problems remained.

“Notwithstanding all of that progress,” Landrieu said, “we now know that we did not pull this problem out by the root.”

The mayor added that that when he became the mayor the Police Department was in disarray and facing bankruptcy. Since taking the city’s helm, he said new layers of scrutiny - including the inspector general’s office and new police monitors - are ensuring problems in the department are brought to light.

The hundreds of rape and child abuse cases now under scrutiny took place between January 2011 and December 2013, a period that covers Landrieu’s tenure.

Landrieu was re-elected to another four years in a landslide in February. Throughout his tenure as mayor Landrieu has struggled to bring crime rates down in a city that remains one of the nation’s most violent.

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