No Win Situations in New Orleans

Save the below video for later. As you can see, the video is marked as age restricted and can only be viewed on YouTube where you can assert that you are old enough to watch. The video is a news report by WWL Investigative Reporter Mike Perlstein. You have probably already seen it. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to watch it.

I pride myself on staying in touch with the rank and file officers of the New Orleans Police Department. I talk to officers every single day in one way or another. 90% of NOPD officers are members of the Fraternal Order of Police. So, I know that I will be addressing FOP members, no matter who I am speaking to.

Recently, I happened to be at a district station at roll call time. As I stated above, I try to talk to officers at every opportunity. Since roll call was just getting started, I joined the group of officers getting ready to start their tour of duty. As usual, I popped in, made sure everyone knew who I was, and asked if there was anything in particular they wanted to talk about. That particular day, they were concerned about recent revisions to the NOPD policy on searches and seizures. I bring this up as a good example of the type of “no win situation” I referred to in Mike Perlstein’s story.

In particular, officers were worried about the addition of paragraph 58 of Chapter 1.2.4 on Search and Seizure. This addition is found in the section addressing strip searches. One of the officers had recently attended in service training and had been told that the new policy makes any search that touches the skin of the person searched a strip search. Strip searches are a no-win situation at NOPD.

First, I would refer to the definition of Strip Search found in the policy. A Strip Search is defined as “any search of a person that includes the remove all or rearrangement of some or all clothing to permit visual inspection of the exterior of the suspect’s groin/genital area, buttocks, female breasts, or undergarments covering these areas.” The intent to conduct a visual inspection seems to be a necessary element of a strip search, but my personal experience is that no visual inspection is necessary in any form, Searches where officers have intentionally avoided any possibility of a visual inspection have been declared strip searches.

Paragraph 62 of the policy outlines the steps that officers have to take in order to conduct a strip search. As you can see, there are numerous steps that would be time consuming. That is fine because strip searches are rare and officers should have to dot every i and cross every t when conducting a strip search. One way or another, conducting strip searches regularly is not practical or necessary. Paragraph 58 of the policy potentially changes all that.

Searches are a daily occurrence for police officers. Policy requires that every arrested subject be searched. Every time someone rides in a police car, they must be searched before they are put in the car. On June 20, 20215, Officer Daryle Holloway was killed in the line of duty by an arrested subject who had managed to get a gun into the back of the police car. In spite of being handcuffed behind his back, Officer Holloway’s assailant managed to shoot and kill him. Searching arrested subjects is serious business that is absolutely necessary for everyone’s safety. Paragraph 58 places all of that in jeopardy.

Under the section heading of Strip Search, paragraph 58 states that “Unless the requirements for a strip search outlined below are met (paragraph 62), officer may not: (a) reach inside outer clothing and touch skin or underwear, especially in the groin, genital, and buttock/anal region; (b) manipulate items inside outer clothing which may be in direct contact with skin especially in the groin, genital, and buttock/anal region to recover an item or move them into open view; or (c) require someone to remove or rearrange some or all clothing to permit visual inspection of a person’s groin/genital area, buttocks, female breasts, or undergarments covering those areas.”

First, I think the policy already covered part c of paragraph 58. The other two parts, a and b above, make routine searches against policy. These are the types of searches that officers conduct every day. The searches that are required by policy. There is simply no way that officers will be able to comply with the requirements of paragraph 62 every time they have to conduct a search subsequent to arrest before placing an arrested subject in a car for transport. Sometimes arrested subjects have to be placed in the car more than once. For example, if an arrested subject has to be taken to the hospital before going to the lock up, that arrested subject would have to be searched before the trip to the hospital and then again before the trip to the lockup. The waistband is one of the first places officers are taught to search. That however would require officers to “reach inside outer clothing and touch skin or underwear…” So, to conduct routine searches before placing an arrested subject in the rear of a police car, officers have to (1) obtain written authorization from his or her supervisor; (2) be properly trained in strip searches; (3) have and use personal protective equipment; (4) perform the search under conditions that provide privacy from all but those authorized to conduct the search – wait, what? The arrested subject has to be transported to a private area before being able to conduct the search that allows them to be transported in a police car? If that isn’t a no-win situation, I don’t know what one is.

Of course, the policy won’t be enforced unless there is some other reason to enforce it. If there is a complaint or someone happens to watch the body worn video, then it will become an issue. Otherwise, officers will have to continue conducting searches. If they stop conducting searches, officers will get hurt. I will again refer to Officer Holloway. It will happen again.

At the roll call I attended, I told officers to do what they had to do to get home safely at the end of the day. Officers should not have to wonder whether or not they can do something that is designed to protect them. The changes to this policy create more confusion and uncertainty. The searches described in paragraph 58 do not necessarily meet the definition of a strip search. However, they are found in the strip search section. When do these instructions apply? Beats me. What I do know is that the number 1 rule is to make it home safely. Make it home safely. If you get dinged for making it home safely, I will be there with you to fight the good fight. The FOP will also be there with you to fight the good fight.