BATON ROUGE, La. — The leader of the Louisiana State Police said Monday that his agency is facing some of the “darkest days” it’s ever had, rocked by scandals from his predecessor involving improper use of public tax dollars.
Col. Kevin Reeves acknowledged that morale has taken a hit. But he said the controversies stem from “the actions of a few” and don’t reflect the conduct of the entire state police agency. He said he doesn’t believe there’s a culture of inappropriate activity.
“I don’t want to see all of the troopers painted with a broad brush,” Reeves said.
Reeves, a 27-year veteran of the state police, took the helm in March, appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards after the agency’s longest-serving superintendent, Mike Edmonson, retired amid questions about lax spending practices and criticism of his leadership. Since Edmonson’s exit, more criticism has emerged about inappropriate conduct.
“Personally, I think that these are some of the darkest days that state police has had, and as a career state trooper, that’s troubling to me,” Reeves said.
When he took over, Reeves launched a “top-to-bottom assessment of our agency,” work that he said continues to determine if the LSP has proper priorities and standards. He’s traveled the state to speak with individual troop commands, to stress professionalism. And he’s changed the state police disciplinary process so a panel determines the appropriate responses to inappropriate behavior, rather than the superintendent.
“It is my hope that through all the controversies, all the setbacks that we have in the agency, that we come out better on the other side, we come out stronger, we come out providing a better product,” Reeves said at a luncheon speech to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Edmonson left after controversy over troopers’ billing thousands of dollars to taxpayers for overtime and expenses on a 2016 road trip to a law enforcement conference in San Diego during which they took sightseeing trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
Though Edmonson claimed he hadn’t approved the side trips, a state police review found Edmonson knew about the excursions, was in contact with the troopers throughout the trip and deleted text messages during the investigation.
Reeves demoted two high-ranking troopers for the road trip after an internal investigation found the officers falsified time sheets and charged for hours they spent sleeping, touring the sights and playing golf.
Other questions have been raised about Edmonson’s spending. The Advocate reported on a scathing draft audit not yet released by the Legislative Auditor’s office that the newspaper said documents widespread misspending by Edmonson, using public tax resources for personal gain.
Edmonson hasn’t commented publicly on either the internal state police review or the draft audit. The state police said it has been working with the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI in reviewing Edmonson’s activities.
In addition, Reeves suspended a highway traffic enforcement program amid questions about whether troopers were charging for hours they didn’t work. Reeves launched a criminal investigation after seeing surveillance footage from WVUE-TV in New Orleans that appeared to show troopers claiming they worked hours they didn’t.
The program won’t be restarted, Reeves said, “until there’s some meaningful change.”
Reeves said he hopes to upgrade state police technology to have a computer-aided dispatch system that would let the agency track its troopers’ locations in real time. Lawmakers will be asked to spend $11 million on the system.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte