By David Jacobs
The Center Square
Louisiana legislators last week challenged State Police policies on body and vehicle cameras while stating that the agency should not be allowed to investigate itself when a trooper is accused of using excessive force.
Lawmakers earlier this year created a task force to review law enforcement training, use of force, community relations and other issues. New State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis told members that troopers have the discretion to turn off their body or dashboard cameras if they think it’s warranted. For example, they might want to speak privately with a supervisor or protect the privacy of a resident of a home they are entering, he said.
State Sen. Cleo Fields and Rep. Edmond Jordan, both Baton Rouge Democrats, said some exceptions may be warranted but generally the cameras should be on. Fields said he considered the cameras important for holding law enforcement accountable while also protecting officers from false accusations.“Why would we allow an officer, at his discretion, to turn on and off his body cam?” Fields asked. “What’s the purpose of it if you can turn it on when you want to and turn it off when you want to?”
Captain Michael Glasser, a member of the task force and the New Orleans Police Department, said it would be “hideously expensive” to have the cameras on all the time and to store all of that digital footage. However, he said policies and training can make clear when the cameras should be on.
Fields suggested the Attorney General’s office perhaps should investigate when there is a trooper-involved shooting or excessive force allegation, rather than State Police itself. Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles said the AG’s office doesn’t currently have the ability to investigate an alleged homicide but the local sheriff where an incident occurs does.Fields said the public doesn’t trust internal investigations.
“There is a problem with the public with an agency investigating itself, period,” he said. “State Police, just like all the other police agencies, cannot investigate themselves when it comes to police-involved shootings and use of deadly force, and we ought to decide, in this task force, who that responsibility will be given to.”
Davis urged members not to make any quick decisions and promised to keep an open mind.
Legislators created the task force partly in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, though there are other examples closer to home. State Police currently are under scrutiny regarding the death of Ronald Greene, a case that now is the subject of a federal investigation.
From January 2013 through October of this year, 167 Louisianans have been killed by police, said Chris Kaiser, advocacy director with the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
About one-third were unarmed, and the majority were Black, meaning that Louisiana law enforcement officers are killing black people at a rate about 1.6 times greater than their share of the population, he said.