By David Jacobs | The Center Square
A task force the Louisiana Legislature created to develop recommendations that would lead to better policing finished its work Thursday, agreeing to proposed changes related to choke holds, no-knock warrants, body cameras and other issues.
The longest debate focused on whether a law enforcement agency should be able to investigate potential wrongdoing by one of its own members. State Rep. Tony Bacala, a Prairieville Republican and former law enforcement officer, proposed creating a certification process that, once completed by at least three members of the agency, would allow that agency to conduct an internal investigation when one of its officers is involved in a shooting that leads to death or serious injury.
Though smaller law enforcement agencies typically rely on State Police for such investigations, nothing currently stops them from investigating themselves if they choose to do so, speakers said.
“Right now, there are no real rules,” Bacala said. “We’re raising the bar above where it is today.”
But state representatives Ted James and Edmond Jordan, both Baton Rouge Democrats who are Black, said an agency should not be allowed to investigate itself at all.
“It’s the fox guarding the hen house,” Jordan said, adding that a better idea would be to create an independent agency to investigate officer shootings.
James said “police policing themselves” is not what “my community” wants. He said the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr recommended that states require an external agency to investigate shootings, suggesting that recommendation should carry weight with people inclined to agree with the current federal administration.
The task force voted 11-7 to approve Bacala’s recommendation.
The group voted down James’ proposal to ban officers under investigation from reviewing their body camera footage before meeting with investigators. He said going over the footage with their attorney before making a statement to an investigator could help an accused officer fabricate a story to escape punishment.
Other members found James’ proposal excessive. They said taking a look at the footage helps an officer refresh their memory about the incident.
Some of the other recommendations to the Louisiana Legislature the Police Training, Screening and De-escalation Task Force approved include:
- Reduce the amount of time an accused officer has to secure counsel from 30 days to 14.
- Increase the amount of time to complete an investigation from 60 to 75 days, including weekends and holidays.
- Ban choke holds except in cases where an officer believes they or another person are at risk of serious bodily harm.
- Require anti-bias training for law enforcement officers.
- Require agencies to develop plans to recruit more minority officers.
- Require agencies to report to prosecutors any wrongdoing by officers that might hurt their credibility in court.
- Give agencies 45 days to report incidents before fining an agency $500 a day for failing to do so.
- Direct Peace Officer Standards and Training Council to develop a process to potentially suspend or revoke an officer’s certification for misconduct that does not lead to a criminal conviction, which currently is required. Their proposal would be reviewed by judiciary committees in the state House of Representatives and Senate.
- Ban “no-knock” warrants unless an affidavit establishes probable cause that such a warrant is needed to protect an officer from death or bodily harm. Officers still would have to identify themselves as uniformed officers and provide audible notice that they are entering a building.
- Require dashboard cameras to be activated when an officer leaves their vehicle.
- Require agencies to establish formal policies about when body cameras must be on.