(The Center Square) – Louisiana laws established in 2017 could be tweaked to help prevent law enforcement officers fired for misconduct from being hired at another agency, representatives of law enforcement and prosecutors said Tuesday.
“We’re leaving this up to the discretion of who’s making the hiring decisions,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles said during a legislative task force meeting reviewing law enforcement tactics and training.
Shannon Dirmann, counsel and legislative liaison with the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, said lawmakers have created a database for disciplinary actions, resignations and terminations. But the legislation doesn’t stop anyone from hiring officers who have had discipline issues.
“I think it needs more teeth,” she said.
Stiles suggested a third party could be responsible for reviewing the information and, if necessary, prevent some people from serving in law enforcement.
Rebekah Taylor with the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement said the law requires law enforcement agencies to report any change in employment status for any officer, which could include retirement, being fired, or resigning while under investigation. Agencies are required to check the database before hiring a new officer, but it is incumbent upon them to investigate further, she said.
Taylor said the commission is required to revoke the certification of officers convicted of certain crimes. She said it revokes for cause about 25 certifications a year on average.
But Taylor added that anything less than a criminal conviction enumerated in statute doesn’t require revocation. Responding to an example Stiles raised, she said withholding evidence would not rise to that standard.
All 12 of the commission members are associated with law enforcement. Stiles suggested the board perhaps should include community representation.
Stiles asked Baton Rouge Chief of Police Murphy Paul if he would mind an outside commission reviewing his department’s hiring. Paul suggested he wouldn’t.
“If you are doing the right thing, who cares who’s watching?” Paul said.
Several speakers suggested current laws protecting the rights of law enforcement officers during a misconduct investigation, which have been amended several times over the years, make investigations more difficult. For example, it requires internal investigations to be completed within 60 days, which some law enforcement leaders said doesn’t provide as much time as they’d like to have. The standards don’t apply to criminal investigations.
A task force legislators created this year to study police training and tactics held two meetings Tuesday, hearing several hours of testimony between them. The enabling legislation initially described the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the treatment of Black men by law enforcement generally, though Republicans insisted that language be stripped out.
Alanah Odoms, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said during debates about the 2017 criminal justice overhaul, advocates mostly avoided talking about race with the largely conservative legislature, thinking focusing on the $700 million annually the state spends on incarceration would be more productive. Odoms said she now believes that was a mistake.
She suggested frequent anti-racism training for law enforcement and lawmakers.
“It is not racist to bring up the word racism,” she said. “There are no race-neutral policies.”
David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.