Lawmakers Consider Louisiana State Police Have Non-Law Enforcement Chief, New Structure | Legislature

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State senators reviewing state police policies and protocols in light of several high-profile cases of police brutality have pushed a new idea to the fore: that the agency needs a civilian leader.

State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis, however, isn’t so sure that’s the wisest course.

The Senate Select Committee on State Police Oversight met Friday for what may be the last time until the legislative session that begins Monday ends June 6. Committee chairman Franklin Foil said the committee appeared ready to make its recommendations.

At the top of that list is the removal of state police from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections and into its own standalone agency.

“We don’t think that’s a good fit,” Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette and committee member, said of the singular department. “We think they should be separated.”

The committee formed after Ronald Greene was beaten by soldiers and died, and other high-profile cases of brutality. Senate President Page Cortez R-Lafayette appointed seven senators to review state police investigative and accountability policies, rather than specific allegations of improper force.

The senators probed further into claims that some state police officials slowed down investigations. Having someone outside the force hearing about questionable acts would help with transparency and protect whistleblowers, they said.

“We have to get the state police under control, and no one is supervising it. It’s on its own, and, in part, we’re to blame,” said Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge and vice chairman of the committee.

Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said he was fine with the move because he is the titular head of the law enforcement agency but has no control on budgets, policies, or the hiring of state police. Also, having policing and incarceration functions under the same umbrella is fraught with possible conflict, LeBlanc said.

But removing the state police from the department isn’t as easy as it sounds and would require a statewide vote to settle. The state constitution limits the number of state agencies to 20, and the state police split would create 21.

The State Police was transferred to the Correctional Service in 1984, when room was needed for a new, stand-alone Department of Environmental Quality.

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Like his predecessor, LeBlanc writes the letters announcing the appointments of assistant secretaries overseeing prisons, the state police, and the Bureau of Juvenile Justice. But the Under Secretary for Juvenile Institutions reports directly to the Governor. And the undersecretary of public safety, who is also the superintendent of state police, sits in on governor’s cabinet meetings.

“The only function I have with public safety and the state police is that I sign their leave sheets,” LeBlanc said, “nothing with operational issues within the state police.”

Unless they pass an amendment to the constitution, which could take years, lawmakers are leaning toward splitting the posts of superintendent of state police and assistant secretary of public safety, both of which Davis now holds.

“It could be done this session. It’s an easy fix and we’re certainly looking to change it that way,” Fields said, adding that it makes sense for a civilian to be the deputy secretary, whose portfolio would include overseeing state police.

Foil said he was also leaning towards separating the two jobs, but warned that a lot of legal research needed to be done before the committee could draft that legislation.

Foil recently retired as a U.S. Navy judge advocate and likened his reasoning for separating jobs to military command structures.

The superintendent of the state police could always come from the ranks of the soldiers and direct day-to-day operations. But the deputy secretary would be a civilian at the top of the structure who could set policy, administer other public security bureaus, and oversee law enforcement much like the Army chief of staff. American responds to the Secretary of Defense, a civilian.

“We’re going to look pretty carefully at that structure,” said Foil, a Republican from Baton Rouge.

Davis opposed the move, saying being perched at the top of the agency helps him formulate more cohesive and effective policies.

For example, the Office of Motor Vehicles reports to him as Undersecretary of Public Safety. If the office that handles driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations has an emergency, Davis said, his knowledge of that agency allows him to quickly dispatch the appropriate personnel and technology.

“We don’t need to change a good process because of a lack of trust in a leader,” Davis said in an interview after the hearing.

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