Legislation to reform ‘police officer bill of rights’ clears House committee

Senate passes separate measure banning chokeholds, no-knock warrants

By: - April 30, 2021 7:00 am

(Andrew Brookes/Getty Images)

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, among others. 

Administrators with knowledge of law enforcement internal affairs said 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.

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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