Arrests and Summonses – NOPD and the SARS-CoV-2 Virus 4-3-2020

Since the lockdowns have begun in New Orleans and Louisiana in response to the novel coronavirus, reporters have asked me about changes to the New Orleans Police Department’s arrest policy. I have been asked about this as recently as yesterday (4-2-2020) in a conversation with Matt Sledge in his preparation for writing this article for NOLA.COM/The Advocate.

While I was not quoted in Matt’s article, I was quoted in an article by The Lens on March 25 and an article for the Washington Post on March 31. The Washington Post article was titled “New Orleans police are jailing people for minor offenses even as the city becomes a covid-19 hotspot.”

Since the message appears to be fluid, I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify my position in this regard.

First and foremost, trying to make an inherently dangerous profession as safe as possible is one of the FOP’s primary missions. For the Crescent City Lodge, that means trying to make working at the New Orleans Police Department as safe as possible. In light of the current threat posed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the resulting COVID-19 illness, that means limiting close interactions with other human beings as much as possible.

We are all making sacrifices by limiting our contact with other human beings in an effort to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. For law enforcement officers, that means limiting close contact with colleagues and members of the public, as much as possible. Sometimes it is not possible. Sometimes, law enforcement officers have to act.

Early on, the NOPD moved fairly swiftly to reduce the number of reports that had to be made in person to an officer by transferring some of that reporting responsibility to the Alternative Police Reporting Unit, which takes reports over the telephone. Subsequently, the NOPD has made it so all reports of property crimes that do not involve an arrest are taken over the telephone.

Specifically, as it relates to arrests, I have been asked numerous times about my thoughts on the NOPD’s arrest policy in light of the current threat.

As I stated above, social distancing would require us to limit our close interactions with other human beings as much as possible and arrests are not socially distant events. Therefore, officers should exercise their discretion to issue a summons in lieu of arrest based on guidance from the NOPD administration, the requirements of LaCCrP Art. 211, and the officer’s observations. As Jim Pasco, the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, was quoted in the Washington Post article, sometimes what looks like an arrest for a minor offense is nothing of the sort.

I explained to every reporter that asked me about the NOPD’s arrest policy that I have been in regular contact with Assistant Chief Superintendent Paul Noel and it is my understanding that the guidance being provided to officers is to issue summons whenever it is possible to do so. Sometimes it is not possible to do so – even for minor offenses. However, as Superintendent Ferguson pointed out in Matt Sledge’s article, arrests are down 59% in the last 2 weeks of March versus the same time period from last year.

I do not believe for a second that NOPD officers are being pushed to make arrests. I believe that Superintendent Ferguson’s comments in today’s article by Matt Sledge for NOLA.COM/The Advocate represent a well-reasoned approach to the topic. I am also confident that NOPD supervisors are giving NOPD officers reasonable guidance on arrests in light of the circumstances based on my numerous conversations with Chief Noel.

I have told every reporter who has asked that I think it is important for the NOPD to use summonses when it is appropriate to do so. Furthermore, I believe NOPD officers are doing so.

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