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Col. Mike Edmonson, State Police Superintendent, explains the benefits of body cameras the State Police are getting during a press conference Wednesday. Axon, a business unit of TASER International (NASDAQ: TASR) announced that the Louisiana State Police (LSP) would be among the first public safety agencies in the country to opt for a full deployment of 1,556 Axon Body 2 cameras. At right is Rick Smith, founder of Taser, Inc. Also in the photo is Gov. John Bel Edwards and LSP Trooper Bryan Lee.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

The State Police superintendent on Monday reassigned the head of the agency's Internal Affairs Division and announced departmental policy changes in response to the revelation that four troopers made an expensive detour to Las Vegas — while being paid overtime — as they drove to a law enforcement conference last year in San Diego. 

Col. Mike Edmonson, who over the weekend called the episode an embarrassment to the agency, reassigned Maj. Derrell Williams from Internal Affairs to patrol duty pending the completion of an internal investigation. He tapped Maj. Cathy Flinchum, the former head of Internal Affairs, to investigate whether the troopers involved violated any department rules by charging the state for overnight stays at the Grand Canyon and a Las Vegas casino. 

Williams was among the four troopers who drove a State Police SUV to the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in October. The Advocate, citing State Police records, reported on Sunday that the group took a circuitous route on the way to the conference, traveling hundreds of miles out of their way and charging dozens of hours of overtime. 

The other officers in the SUV were Lt. Rodney Hyatt, Senior Trooper Thurman Miller and Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky. They were among about 15 people the State Police sent to the IACP conference. State Police travel records show the agency spent more than $33,000 for airfare, lodging, meals, registration fees and other expenses for the conference. 

Most of the State Police representatives flew to the conference. But Edmonson authorized a group of troopers to drive there, anticipating a need to attend events away from the main conference site. He said officials believed the cost would be about equal to that of flying and then renting a vehicle. 

But Edmonson said he had not been aware until last week that the troopers were paid thousands of dollars in overtime.

On Monday, he said that the agency "is taking steps to recoup" the overtime pay and to reclassify those hours as "compensatory time." The troopers also will be required to repay "all hotel fees and per diem claimed in Las Vegas," he said. 

He also said he has changed State Police policy "to reflect that paid overtime compensation may not be claimed for travel or conference training except for extraordinary circumstances approved through the Office of the Superintendent."

Edmonson said he reiterated to troopers "that all departmental out-of-state travel applications, including departmental vehicle use or rental car authorization, must be approved through the Office of the Superintendent."

"The public can rest assured that I am making necessary changes and providing clear direction to those under my command," he said. 

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a watchdog organization that criticized the Las Vegas trip, said Edmonson's statements raised new questions about past trips by troopers. "How many other people have been granted overtime to attend conferences?" he said.

Goyeneche also called upon Edmonson to request an outside agency, such as the state inspector general, to investigate the trip. Among the unanswered questions is whether the troopers potentially committed payroll fraud — or malfeasance in office — by claiming overtime for hours they didn't even spend on the road.  

"I think the State Police are compromised in their ability to conduct this investigation because of the parties involved in it," Goyeneche said. "I think in the spirit of transparency and accountability, the best way to ensure that is by having an outside entity conduct this investigation." 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.