- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Close to 60 recent recruits were accepted into New Orleans Police Department training academy classes despite red flags for several “risk factors,” including possible drug use, unpaid child support and domestic abuse, federal monitors said.

Their report, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, was the latest black eye for a depleted department working to beef up manpower and reverse decades of scandal that included the fatal shootings of unarmed civilians after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The monitors stopped short of saying unfit officers are being trained and hired, but their report listed more than a dozen “risk factors” that popped up in recruit records.

Among them, the report found, were instances of unstable work histories, “deceptive use of mental illness to gain separation from an armed service,” and “patterns of deception” on voice-stress lie detector tests.

The report also decried a lack of documentation as to why some of the questionable recruits were approved for training.

“The existence of these and other risk indicators in the recruit files, without evidence of meaningful follow-up, suggests to us NOPD may be accepting candidates into the Academy who should not be NOPD officers,” it said.

Police chief Michael Harrison said the department is addressing problems outlined in the 28-page report. However, he also insisted that the department has been diligent in hiring qualified officers.

“There comes a point when we have to figure out: How much do we forgive a person for minor things they did in their past life?” Harrison said. “And none of us are hiring angels. None of us are hiring saints.”

The report was prepared by police experts hired to monitor the city’s compliance with a consent decree - a court-backed agreement between New Orleans and the U.S. Justice Department.

That 2012 agreement came a year after a scathing Justice Department report finding fault with New Orleans police recruitment, training, policies and practices, including questionable use of deadly force.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu had invited Justice Department scrutiny shortly after he took office in 2010 as investigations and trials over the post-Katrina killings played out.

Remedies have included a vast revamp of policies and use of body and dashboard cameras. Monitors have generally praised the city’s efforts over the years, even as they point to the need for continued improvement.

Complicating the department’s problems: Hiring slowed, but attrition continued, as Landrieu and the City Council worked to balance the city’s budget. A department that officials say should have 1,500 to 1,600 officers currently has fewer than 1,200. Recent aggressive recruitment efforts appear only to have stopped the attrition without beefing up the force.

Meanwhile, after years of decline, the city’s homicide rate spiked last year.

The monitors’ report also said background investigators have insufficient training and work under unreasonable time pressures. It said investigations sometimes downplay or overlook potential disqualifying information.

The report came the day after the announcement of the resignation of Jonathan Wisbey, the police department’s deputy chief of staff, who oversaw recruiting. The report did not mention Wisbey by name.

Harrison stressed that allegations made last year by the Police Association of New Orleans, which accused Wisbey of misconduct involving background checks, were determined to be unfounded by the department’s public integrity bureau. And he said he did not believe there was a connection between Wisbey’s resignation and the monitors’ report.

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