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New Orleans fears costs of ordered reforms to police, prison systems

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 9:16 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has approved a sweeping agreement between the Justice Department and the city of New Orleans designed to clean up the city's long-troubled police department, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who once strongly backed it, said the city wants to put the brakes on it because of costs.

Landrieu said he asked U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to delay final approval, largely because the Justice Department has also entered into a potentially expensive separate agreement with the New Orleans sheriff for reforms at the city-funded jail.

Morgan, however, approved the agreement, calling it “fair, adequate and reasonable” in a Friday ruling.

“The Orleans Parish Prison consent decree may cost $17 million, which is not budgeted for this year and would therefore bankrupt the City,” Landrieu said in a news release. “If a federal judge ordered the City to pay $17 million, we would need to furlough every City employee, including police officers, for 28 days. It makes no sense to furlough or lay off police officers to give pay raises to prison guards.”

“We just can't afford it,” said City Council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, a member of the council budget committee.

The mayor said that he was unsure of the city's next legal step.

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