A police reform bill that would change some aspects of Louisiana’s so-called “police officer bill of rights” to make internal affairs investigations more effective cleared the Louisiana House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
House Bill 430, sponsored by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, would change parts of the officer bill of rights with regards to internal investigations. The changes were recommended by the Police Training Screening and De-escalation Task Force, a 25-member panel established in response to national outcry at the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Among the proposed changes, the bill would shorten from 30 days to 14 days the time period for an officer under investigation to obtain an attorney, and it would extend the length of time allowed to complete internal investigations to 75 days.
It would also require all sustained complaints — that is those made against an officer that are supported by evidence — to remain in the officer’s personnel file for at least 10 years.
In September the task force heard testimony from officials with the Fraternal Order of Police, the Louisiana State Police Commission, Baton Rouge Crime Stoppers, the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, and the Louisiana Police Chiefs Association.
All were experienced administrators with knowledge of law enforcement internal affairs, and they were nearly unanimous in saying that the 60-day time deadline to complete internal investigations that’s now imposed by the officer bill of rights doesn’t leave them enough time to complete an internal investigation.
The officer bill of rights not only limits a police department to a 60-day deadline to conduct and complete an internal investigation, it gives an officer 30 days to find an attorney before answering any questions, thereby eating up half the time a department has to investigate.
In September, Jonny Dunnam, chief of staff for Baton Rouge Police Department and the executive director of Greater Baton Rouge Crime Stoppers, pointed to these time constraints and other amendments in the officer bill of rights as major obstacles that hamper internal affairs.
“Each of the amendments has ended up handcuffing chiefs of police and administrators from disciplining their officers,” Dunnam said at the time.
James’ bill is one of several making its way through the legislature this session. Also on Thursday, the senate passed a reform bill that would prohibit chokeholds, no-knock warrants and require officers to train how to intervene when witnessing misconduct.
The most significant reform measure is contained in House Bill 609, which would dismantle qualified immunity — a doctrine that blocks lawsuits against officers who wrongfully kill or injure citizens. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure on May 3.