- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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April 9

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on federal consent degrees and police reform:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday (April 3) that his department will revisit court-enforced police reform plans in place across the nation. Mr. Sessions is skeptical of the effectiveness of consent decrees.

That doesn’t mean that he could undo an existing consent decree. They are under the control of federal courts once they are approved, and those judges have broad autonomy.

But it’s important for Mr. Sessions to understand the history that led to federal oversight of the New Orleans Police Department five years ago.

The department was out of control when Police Superintendent Richard Pennington took over in the mid-1990s. Hours after he was hired in October 1994, a 32-year-old mother of three was gunned down in a hit ordered by then-patrolman Len Davis. Kim Groves had reported the officer to his superiors for allegedly pistol-whipping a neighborhood teenager.

Months later, in March 1995, then-officer Antoinette Frank killed fellow police officer Ronnie Williams II, 25; Ha Vu, 24; and Cuong Vu, 19, during a robbery of the Kim Anh Restaurant.

The Justice Department launched an investigation into the department in 1996 after Mr. Pennington had begun reforming internal investigations, police details and other operations. But in 2004, the department decided that federal oversight was not needed. That was the wrong decision.

Mr. Pennington’s reforms were unraveled after he left the department in 2002. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees broke three years later, corruption was thriving at NOPD.

Five days before Katrina, a two-year NOPD veteran was booked with aggravated rape, kidnapping and malfeasance in office after a woman accused him of assault. That brought the total to 11 officers who were arrested in 2004 and 2005 on criminal charges ranging from shoplifting to conspiracy to rob a bank.

That wasn’t all. Treme handyman Raymond Robair died a month before Hurricane Katrina after officers stomped and kicked him. The officers took him to Charity Hospital and told emergency workers they had found him unresponsive on the ground. They later claimed to be heroes, but an FBI investigation uncovered their lies and a federal jury in 2011 found them guilty in his death.

The Friday after Katrina, police shot Henry Glover to death near a closed Algiers strip mall where he was headed in search of luggage. His body was set on fire in his car in an attempt by officers to cover up the killing.

Two days later, police shot to death Ronald Madison, a mentally handicapped man, and 17-year-old James Brissette as they were crossing Danziger Bridge. Four other people crossing the bridge were severely wounded when officers opened fire on the group after wrongly being told someone had shot at police.

That was the backdrop for the 2012 consent decree mandating reforms for NOPD.

Although the department still has problems, there has been a marked change in how NOPD functions under the consent decree. Use of force incidents go through a more rigorous review process, and body-worn cameras help provide transparency.

There also is an ability to correct missteps before they go on for too long. The monitoring team in January issued a report raising concerns about the way NOPD was screening recruits. Risk factors were ignored for nearly five dozen recruits in 2016, the report said. NOPD acknowledged the problems in court and committed to specific changes within a month of the monitor’s report.

That doesn’t mean the problem won’t recur. The monitoring team and U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan will need to keep watch to make sure that doesn’t happen. But that is why the consent decree exists — and needs to continue.

Online:

https://www.nola.com

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April 12

Houma Today on school safety precautions:

Local law enforcement and school officials are loud and clear in their advice to students: Don’t bring guns to school.

That might seem like something that doesn’t even need to be said. But recent events have brought attention to the issue.

In March, two students at Raceland Upper Elementary were charged with taking a BB gun to school.

And in February, a student at Village East Elementary in Houma was charged with the same thing.

The three students are innocent unless and until they are proven guilty, but the fact here is that someone took those guns to school.

The fact that these two guns were BB guns is irrelevant.

Many BB guns closely resemble similar, more deadly weapons, and law enforcement officers cannot always tell the difference at a glance.

The nation has seen far too many instances of schools that see acts of violence.

On Monday, two adults were killed and two students wounded in a school shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

That’s not to say any such shocking and heartbreaking incident will happen here. But our local officials have to be aware of the terrifying potential.

To most of us, a school shooting is unthinkable. But the people who run and police our schools cannot afford to ignore the grim possibility.

“The best law to follow in this case is common sense,” Terrebonne school Superintendent Philip Martin said. “The consequences are very severe, and I think they should be quite honestly. Who wants kids bringing guns to school?”

That is a thought that was echoed by Lafourche Sheriff Craig Webre, who added that parents should know where their weapons are and should make sure that children don’t have access to them.

“Just like with any investigation, we will thoroughly investigate and decide what charges should be brought in every situation,” Webre said. “It is imperative that parents know where their guns are at all times and even check their children’s school bags if necessary.”

It is frightening to think that our children could face such a nightmare in a classroom or in a school hallway.

But if students, parents, school officials and law enforcement professionals do what they should do, the chances will be significantly reduced.

Make sure your children and grandchildren know the dangers - physical, legal and disciplinary - they could face if they take weapons of any kind to school.

This will make all our children, teachers, administrators and school workers safer.

Online:

https://www.houmatoday.com

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April 12

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on a Chinese company’s investment in the state:

After a presidential campaign that cast a dark view of global trade, Louisiana residents got a fresh reminder this week of how connected our economy is with the rest of the world.

A mainland Chinese company, Wanhua Chemical, plans to develop a $1.12 billion petrochemical manufacturing complex somewhere in Louisiana. The company plans to reveal the facility site later this year. The decision to build is made, although the location in Louisiana is still a company secret.

Even if there is that little bit of intrigue, the announcement of the new complex was made official by Wanhua Chairman and chief executive Zengtai Liao and Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Wanhua will produce methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, at the complex. MDI is used in making polyurethanes, a key component in a number of products, including car seats, furniture, adhesives and insulation.

Wanhua will invest $954 million in the facility and its project partners will put up $166 million. The names of the partners were not disclosed Monday.

Louisiana’s economic development agency said the project will create 170 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $70,440, plus benefits. Another 945 indirect jobs are projected.

It is the second-largest direct foreign investment by a mainland Chinese company, although Louisiana already boasts significant other investments from Taiwanese companies as well.

Previously, a $1.85 billion methanol complex began development by Yuhuang Chemical from the mainland in St. James Parish.

Louisiana is providing a performance-based grant of $4.3 million to offset site infrastructure costs, but good-paying jobs are also eligible for other tax benefits, and the complex will benefit from the industrial tax exemption from local property taxes.

Those are real costs, but the benefits remain substantial from an industrial facility likely to be working for decades. Obviously, it will be important for the plant to obtain permits that ensure that environmental standards are maintained.

Several major industrial expansions are underway in Louisiana today, creating a substantial and continuing demand over years for jobs in industrial construction in particular.

Our state has significant advantages in petrochemical manufacturing, including the deepwater transportation provided by the Mississippi River, but also by market forces: The price of natural gas is low, providing an essential feedstock for chemical plants.

Wherever they light, we welcome Wanhua to Louisiana. Our state’s river corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is one of the world’s most important concentrations of petrochemical manufacturing.

Online:

https://www.theadvocate.com

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