Col. Kevin Reeves is appointed Louisiana State Police superintendent by Gov. John Bel Edwards in June 2017. (Photo from Louisiana Governor’s Office Twitter feed)
A proposal to insert accountability into the close-knit relationship between the leader of Louisiana State Police and the governor died Tuesday in the Legislature, despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the idea amid multiple investigations into the law enforcement agency.
Democrat Cleo Fields, lead author for Senate Bill 400, wants to create a deputy secretary of public safety within the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, which includes Louisiana State Police. Its superintendent would answer directly to the new deputy secretary, which would be filled by a civilian employee.
Corrections and Public Safety were once individual departments until they were combined in 1983 to allow for the addition of the Department of Environmental Quality. Separating them again would require a constitutional amendment to allow the state to surpass its mandated limit of 20 departments.
The LSP superintendent is considered an unofficial member of the governor’s cabinet with little to no reason to obtain approval from the Public Safety and Corrections secretary. Jimmy LeBlanc, who leads the department, told lawmakers earlier this year his only oversight duties for State Police involves approving the leadership’s payroll and time off.
In getting his bill through the Senate, Fields explained ongoing investigations into allegations of a coverup in the 2019 death of Ronald Greene in State Police custody provided ample reason why more oversight was needed for the law enforcement agency. Yet in front of the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday, he focused more on the reasons he had opted not to pursue a constitutional amendment to create two more state departments.
It wasn’t until well after opposition to the bill was raised that Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, got Fields to confirm that Greene’s death factored into his motivation for the bill. Nelson sits on the special House committee that’s conducting its own inquiry into how State Police handled the Greene case.
Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, questioned the wisdom of putting policing agencies such as Alcohol and Tobacco Control, Weights and Standards and the Highway Safety Commission under civilian oversight. He questioned whether Fields wanted to circumvent the state constitution.
Voting to involuntarily defer Fields’ bill were Fontenot and Reps. Ray Garafalo; R-Chalmette; Jonathan Goudeau, R-Lafayette; Danny McCormick, R-Oil City; and Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport
Against the deferral were Reps. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia; Vanessa LaFleur, D-Baton Rouge; Nelson; and Debra Villio, R-Kenner.
Four committee members were absent for the vote; Reps. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville; Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge; and Nick Muscarello, R-Hammond. Bacala also sits on the House panel investigating the Greene case.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.