Louisiana senators to hold inaugural meeting of State Police Oversight Committee

Lawmakers hope to develop new policies on excessive force

By: - December 3, 2021 7:01 am
Louisiana senators to hold inaugural meeting of State Police Oversight Committee

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday, June 13, 2022, that Louisiana State Police is short about 300 troopers from ideal staffing levels. (Raymond Clark images)

A special state Senate committee will meet Monday to review oversight of excessive force incidents and develop new proposals for reforms within the Louisiana State Police. 

The Senate Select Committee on State Police Oversight was created in October in response to requests from senators concerned over several high-profile incidents of troopers using excessive force within the last few years. The committee is comprised of seven state senators — four Republicans and three Democrats — and led by Sen. Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge) as chairman and Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge) as vice chairman.

In a phone call Wednesday, Foil said he intends to focus the discussion on policies and training regarding use of force. The committee plans to hear from State Police brass, advocates, members of the public and anyone else with an interest in the subject, which will be geared more toward policy than specific allegations, he said. 

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Foil said the overall goal is to develop recommendations for legislation that would reduce excessive force incidents and improve mechanisms for oversight when such incidents do occur — such as the 2019 death of Black motorist Ronald Greene and the alleged cover-up that followed within State Police. The committee’s deadline to deliver those recommendations to the rest of the Senate is Oct. 31, 2022.

A similar effort began last year when the legislature assembled the Police Training Screening and De-escalation Task Force, a 25-member bipartisan panel established in response to national outcry at the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. That task force proposed several reforms that were signed into law after the 2021 Regular Session, though its most significant piece of legislation — a bill to limit the qualified immunity doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits — ultimately failed at a late stage in the legislative process. 

Foil said it’s possible qualified immunity could come up for debate in the new committee but he has not seen any specific plans for it.

“Right now at least at this stage, we’re going to listen to testimony and see where it leads us,” Foil said. 

Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), who is not on the Senate committee but has led other major police reform initiatives and chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, authored one of the task force bills that made it into law. That legislation reformed Louisiana’s so-called “officer’s bill of rights” by removing some obstacles that allowed officer misconduct to go unpunished such as the 60-day time limit an agency has to complete an internal investigation. The new law extended it to 75 days and changed other rules that often foiled internal investigations. 

However, that new law, along with the officer’s bill of rights, applies only to municipal law enforcement officers — not State Police troopers, who operate under separate rules and protections established by the State Police Commission. James said he hopes the Senate committee proposes similar reforms that will apply to state troopers.  

“Honestly, it’s hard for me to think about the future when I know the past is clouded with cover-ups and lies,” James said in an interview Thursday. “[State Police Superintendent] Lamar Davis has done several positive things in a short time, but they have been overshadowed because he inherited a troublesome agency. Transparency must be the centerpiece of everything they do. State Police Commission rules need a full makeover. They should adopt all of the changes we made this past session with the bill of rights.” 

The Louisiana State Police is under additional scrutiny from officials with the U.S. Justice Department. Federal prosecutors are investigating the same high-profile incidents and whether anyone within the State Police obstructed justice to protect troopers accused in the Ronald Greene case. 

In an emailed statement to the Illuminator, State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis said he is committed to reforming the agency and welcomes the Senate committee’s scrutiny.

“Our agency welcomes the legislative review of departmental policies and processes including the recent improvements to our operations, training, and administration over the last year,” Davis said in part. “We remain committed to the reform process through continued coordination with the Louisiana Legislature and stakeholders representing diverse populations throughout our state.” 

Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed Davis in October 2020 in an effort to reform the agency after Greene’s death was brought to light through an investigation by Associated Press reporters Melinda Deslatte and Jim Mustian. 

Under Davis’ command, State Police investigators have initiated several internal and criminal investigations into allegations of misconduct and excessive force, leading to four arrests within their ranks. During that same time, however, Davis attracted additional scrutiny in July when his agency abruptly disbanded a secret panel that was set up to investigate systemic abuses of Black motorists. 

The Senate Select Committee on State Police Oversight will meet at 10 a.m. Monday at the Louisiana State Capitol. Vice Chairman Sen. Cleo Fields did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley 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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