Louisiana lawmakers advance bills focused on police conduct

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A bill that would require police officers to intervene if a colleague is engaged in misconduct and establish new regulations regarding body and vehicle cameras, choke holds and “no-knock” warrants has been approved by the Louisiana Senate.

Senate Bill 34 by Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Cleo Fields, along with two other measures lawmakers advanced Thursday, emerged out of discussions among legislators and justice system leaders and is meant to improve police behavior in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and other high-profile incidents.

SB 34 would require the state’s Council on Peace Officer Standings and Training to develop and implement curriculum about the duty to intervene by Jan. 1. Also by the beginning of next year, law enforcement agencies that use body cameras would be required to create specific policies to govern when the cameras should be on or off. Dashboard vehicle cameras would have to be activated when officers turn on their emergency lights.

Choke holds would be prohibited “except when the officer reasonably believes he or another person is at risk of great bodily harm or when deadly force is authorized.” Executing a search warrant without knocking generally would be allowed only during the day, with a district court judge’s approval and “where the surprise of a no-knock entry is necessary to protect life and limb of the law enforcement officers and the occupants.” A search warrant for the withdrawal of blood could be executed at any time of day.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 430 by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, which would make changes to municipal police officers’ legal rights. The legislation would reduce the amount of time officers have to secure representation before being questioned in a misconduct investigation from 30 days to 14 days.

After one speaker said 14 days still is too long to wait to question an officer, James said he agreed and his proposal reflected consensus and compromise among stakeholders.

The bill also would extend the time limit to investigate an officer from 60 days to 70 days and that sustained complaints would stay in an officer’s personnel file for at least 10 years.

The committee also advanced House Bill 129 by Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, which calls for the Council on Peace Officer Standings and Training and other government entities to develop plans to recruit more minorities for law enforcement positions. Entities would have to ensure their officers receive anti-bias training or risk losing state law enforcement grants.

The POST council also would have to certify law enforcement agencies in order to investigate “officer-involved shootings” that result in death or serious bodily harm. Officers who engage in misconduct could have their POST certifications suspended or revoked.