Thursday, June 13, 2024

Audit: Louisiana State Police lacks external oversight over trooper misconduct

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

A new report comparing Louisiana State Police operations with law enforcement agencies in other states highlights the state’s lack of external oversight over officer misconduct.

The informational report issued by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor on Wednesday comes in response to requests from lawmakers amid allegations of excessive force and racial discrimination in recent years.

The report compared LSP with similar agencies in nine other southern states under six categories: organizational placement; functions, staffing and budget; qualifications and appointment processes for agency heads; investigations of complaints of officer misconduct; records retention requirements; and retirement benefits.

Officer accountability among states varied, with some utilizing external independent or civilian review boards, others with internal affairs units and some with a combination of the two. In Louisiana, a State Police Commission established in 1991 provides an “independent civil service system” for full-time regularly commissioned officers, but its authority is limited to adjudicating police personnel activities, “such as establishing uniform pay and classification plans and promulgating rules for prohibited political activities and the disciplinary process for LSP officers,” according to the report.

“However, the commission does not conduct investigations of complaints against LSP employees; these are conducted internally by the Internal Affairs section of LSP. In addition, disciplinary actions against an LSP employee can only be taken by the Superintendent or his designee,” auditors wrote.

That reality stands in contrast to external commissions or boards in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina that are statutorily authorized to collect and report data or to investigate and sanction licensed law enforcement officers for misconduct or violations.

The distinction is a major issue for proponents of reform who have highlighted numerous high-profile cases of alleged excessive force or discriminatory policing, from the deadly arrest of black motorist Ronald Greene in 2019 to the alleged beating of motorist Antonio Harris in a Franklin Parish arrest in 2020.

Those incidents and numerous others prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into LSP in June, about three months after LSP hired an outside consultant to review the scandal-plagued agency.

Auditors found LSP investigated 167 complaints with 366 potential policy violations or allegations between 2019 and 2021, 157 through internal affairs and 10 through external law enforcement agencies. About a third of the complaints involved unbecoming conduct, use of force or unsatisfactory performance, according to the LLA report.

The 366 investigated allegations resulted in 247 sustained findings, 34 unfounded findings, 31 exonerated, 30 not sustained with evidence and 24 “other” outcomes, including employees who resigned or retired prior to the completion of the investigation.

Auditors found LSP, like all other states examined, is located within the Department of Public Safety or similar state agency, though LSP is the only law enforcement agency charged with gaming enforcement.

LSP’s $330 million fiscal year 2022 budget ranked second among the states reviewed, behind the Texas Highway Patrol’s $409 million budget, but ahead of Florida Highway Patrol at $303 million, Kentucky State Police at $296 million, North Carolina State Highway Patrol at $277 million, Georgia State Patrol at $151 million, Arkansas State Police at $133 million, Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol at $104 million, South Carolina State Highway Patrol at $89 million and Alabama Highway Patrol at $82 million.

The LLA found that like other states, LSP’s superintendent has an extensive law enforcement background and is appointed by an agency head in a similar fashion as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

Record retention policies were also similar among states, though policies varied and there are no standards or best practices, according to the LLA report.

Six of the 10 states reviewed, including LSP, offer defined benefit pension plans, while the other four offer an option between or a combination of a defined benefit and defined contribution plan.

“LSP offers its employees a 3.33% benefit accrual rate, which is the highest among the states reviewed,” auditors wrote.

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