8 May 2010

Mayor seeks federal help to reform police

5:34 pm on 8 May 2010

New Orleans's new mayor has asked the United States government to investigate the city police department.

Mitch Landrieu, who took office on Monday, said the force had been described as one of the worst in the country.

In a letter to the US attorney general, he noted officers had been implicated in violent crimes including rape.

The BBC reports New Orleans is still struggling to rebuild nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina.

The US justice department civil rights division said it would consider Mr Landrieu's request and determine if any action was appropriate.

New Orleans police officers are currently the subject of at least eight federal civil rights investigations.

In one case, three officers have pleaded guilty to covering up the police shooting death of two refugees fleeing the floods that inundated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Earlier this week, a New Orleans officer was suspended from duty following his arrest on a domestic violence charge.

Mr Landrieu on Thursday named a new police superintendent, in what he said would be a first step towards reform.

Ronal Serpas is currently chief of the Nashville police department in Tennessee.

According to FBI statistics, New Orleans's murder rate was more than 10 times the national rate in 2008, with 179 murders and non-negligent homicides in the city of 281,000.

Mr Landrieu is the first white mayor of New Orleans to be appointed in more than three decades. He replaced Ray Nagin.

Mr Landrieu hails from a political dynasty in Louisiana - his father was mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s and his sister, Mary Landrieu, is a US Senator for the state.