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Colonel Kevin Reeves gives the superintendent's remarks, Thursday, May 18, 2017, during the Louisiana State Police Memorial Ceremony at Louisiana State Police Headquarters in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Kevin Reeves wanted to be a police officer from when he was a young boy in Baton Rouge, and it was a dream he fulfilled when he joined Louisiana State Police in 1990.

Reeves rose through the ranks to become a major in north Louisiana overseeing one of State Police’s three patrol units. At age 48, he would have been content to remain there until he retired in several years.

But longtime superintendent Mike Edmonson retired under fierce criticism in March, and Gov. John Bel Edwards elevated Reeves to be Edmonson’s interim replacement.

Edwards stood by Reeves’ side on Tuesday at State Police headquarters and announced he had removed the interim tag. Now a colonel, Reeves becomes the 26th superintendent in the history of State Police.

“When I started looking for an interim superintendent, I cast a wide net,” Edwards told a small room full of reporters, Reeves’ wife and three children, Reeves’ father and State Police officials. “I checked with people who did have a lot of familiarity with the agency and with the individuals, and the one name that kept coming up regardless of what part of the state I was in or who I was talking, Kevin Reeves was someone who needed to be considered. He’s solid. He’s steady. His demeanor is such that the troopers will know that he is in charge.”

In a phone interview Tuesday before the press conference, Reeves said he had never expected to become Edmonson’s successor, saying he had not aspired for the position or known the governor until his staff asked him to interview for the interim job.

“It was a surprise,” Reeves said. But now that he has the position, he said his major goal will be to help “instill trust and confidence from the public back in our agency.”

Edmonson was the longest-serving superintendent in State Police history, named to the job by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2008 and held in such esteem that Edwards retained him when the new governor took office in 2016. But Edmonson resigned amid an FBI investigation of improper political contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers Association's board of directors and amid revelations that four troopers charged taxpayers for a lavish road trip they took to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon while driving to a law enforcement conference in California.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor launched an investigation into the so-called “side trip,” as did State Police internal affairs’ division. Edmonson is expected to face stinging criticism when those reports become public, and the troopers involved are expected to be disciplined. Reeves said Tuesday that the internal affairs inquiry has been completed but that the disciplinary process has not yet run its course.

Reeves has pledged to chart a different path, and that must have appealed to Edwards, an underdog candidate who won office in 2015 while promising to abide by the West Point Honor Code to not lie or cheat or tolerate those who do.

“As far as the future for State Police, much has been reported about our department over the past year,” Reeves told the crowd at State Police headquarters. “We’re learning from it. We’re moving forward to make operations better and instill confidence. Our team has already begun a top to bottom assessment of the department. We will make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that we operate efficiently and effectively.”

Reeves has the endorsement of state Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, who served as superintendent from 2000-2004 during Gov. Mike Foster’s second term.

“Everything that I’ve seen of Kevin tells me that he’s ready for the challenge,” Landry said. “The job is a challenge. The department has gone through growing pains. He is a very sincere, straightforward leader. He knows he has to bring the department back and restore the confidence of the people in the state.”

In his new job, Reeves will earn $177,000 a year and oversee about 1,000 state troopers as well as another 1,500 employees at several agencies under the Department of Public Safety, including, the department’s Office of Management and Finance and its Office of Legal Affairs, the Office of Motor Vehicles, the Office of State Fire Marshal, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinating Office and the Liquified Petroleum Gas Commission.

Edwards chose Reeves from a group of three finalists, having also interviewed Maj. Carl Saizan, who oversees the agency's operations in New Orleans, and Lt. Col. Murphy Paul, a nearly two-decade veteran of the State Police who oversees the agency's Bureau of Investigations, according to a senior a law enforcement official familiar with the selection process.

Reeves grew up less than two miles from State Police headquarters and graduated from Tara High School.

Billy Reeves, the new superintendent’s father, dressed in a coat and tie for his son’s big day on Tuesday, said he and his wife often encouraged him to follow a motto attributed to Mark Twain: “Do what’s right. The people that like you will be pleased, and the ones who don’t will be astonished.”

Reeves worked as a reserve sheriff’s deputy while he was a student at LSU, dropped out of school and became an investigator for the district attorney’s office.

In 1990, as the state recovered from the mid-1980s oil bust, State Police began hiring again, and Reeves signed up. He was assigned to motorcycle patrol in Baton Rouge-based Troop A. He moved to Troop F in Monroe in 1993, where he worked undercover narcotics investigations and also served as a squad leader for the agency's mobile field force. In 2008, he was appointed commander of Troop F.

While in Monroe, he graduated from Louisiana Tech in sociology. In recent years, Reeves has been living with his family in Jonesboro in Jackson Parish.

Following Tuesday’s press conference, Reeves sat in his new second floor office – still without family photographs or personal effects – and described why he wanted to become a police officer.

“Being able to help people whether you get a call for service that dispatches you somewhere or just out patrolling around in your area you’ve been assigned and doing preventive patrols and stopping and visiting with people,” he said. “Maybe stopping a crime before it takes place or while it’s taking place. Having some kind of impact.”

Reeves also disclosed the quandary he faced after learning that Edwards wanted to make him the interim choice. Taking the job could derail the budding career of his son, Kaleb, who is 23 and was about to graduate from the State Police academy.

State law prevents an immediate family member of an agency head from being employed at the same agency

“He was concerned that his employment would cause this not to happen,” Reeves said of Kaleb. “I basically took that decision out of his hands. I told him that there was no decision to be made here. If it came down to my position or his employment, his employment would win out every time.”

The Legislature passed a law amending the ethics law to permit Reeves to take the job and Kaleb to continue with State Police.

Jim Mustian of the New Orleans Advocate contributed to this report.

 

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.