Louisiana Legislature Approves Tepid Police 'Reforms' That Won't Do Much To Give The State Better Police
from the that-which-barely-even-wounds-you-makes-you-stronger dept
Police reform efforts are being mounted all over the nation, but very few appear to be capable of creating any lasting, positive changes. Reforming law enforcement is difficult to do. Legislators, for the most part, still “back the blue,” if for no other reason than cops are also government employees. Powerful police unions are firmly entrenched, providing the biggest obstacle to reform — fully capable of gutting reform bills by leaning on legislators and threatening less law enforcement activity.
The Louisiana legislature has finally agreed to some recommendations from a state task force. The best recommendations, however, were excised from the final proposal, leaving state residents to deal with law enforcement agencies which won’t really have to change much of anything to comply with the minimal changes.
Perhaps the most significant change is this, which shows you just how little will be changing for the state’s cops.
Reduce the amount of time an accused officer has to secure counsel from 30 days to 14.
This just means officers will be answering questions a little bit sooner when under investigation. On the other hand, the task force approved extending the length allowed for internal investigations from 60 days to 75 days, meaning it will be at least another two weeks before the public is informed of the outcome… if it’s even informed at all.
There’s a chokehold “ban” that isn’t an actual ban, allowing officers to use chokeholds if they “believe” they or someone else is in danger. The same sort of faux ban now exists for no-knock warrants.
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.
So, pretty much the same standard as before for no-knock warrants. The only difference is officers will have to identify themselves when serving no-knock warrants — something they still won’t have to do until after they’ve already entered.
There are demands for additional training and a mandate for the hiring of minority officers. The reforms address things that should have already been in place, like requiring agencies to report anything that might harm an officer’s credibility to prosecutors (but not, notably, to defense lawyers) and “incidents” triggering investigations.
Another small positive is a mandate to create a process to revoke an officer’s license if they commit misconduct. Currently, an officer’s certification can only be pulled if they are convicted of a crime. There’s also a new requirement that officers activate dashboard cameras when exiting their vehicles. The reforms will also apparently lead to similar body camera requirements, indicating nothing approaching this is already in place.
But it could have been a much stronger set of reforms. But the task force — composed mainly of government officials — voted down recommendations that could have resulted in lasting, positive change.
First, the task force rejected a recommendation that all investigations of officers be performed by an outside law enforcement agency. The status quo will remain in place, allowing departments to investigate their own officers — something that tends to lead to exoneration.
And the task force also refused to hold officers to the same standard the government holds citizens accused of criminal wrongdoing.
The group voted down [Rep. Ted] 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.
Sure, it might “refresh” their memory. But it’s more than accused citizens get to do. They’re not allowed to review recordings of any alleged criminal acts before talking to investigators. There’s no reason officers should be given more due process than the people they serve, but government reps and law enforcement officials often seem to believe accused officers should be given a head start on investigations, building up a defense before even being questioned.
This isn’t really reform. It’s the enactment of bare minimum expectations. This is what Louisiana should already have had in place. There’s no reason to applaud something other states would consider to be the foundation to erect reform efforts on.