In announcing his retirement as superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, Col. Mike Edmonson said last week that he hoped to restore a sense of normalcy to an agency riven by controversy in recent weeks.
Many rank-and-file troopers embraced Edmonson's departure as a chance for a new beginning; they called for fresh blood to unite an organization given to factions and cliques.
And in the wake of a scandal involving questionable overtime pay and out-of-state travel, some experts said the State Police might benefit from an outsider's perspective as the agency seeks to boost morale and reform its often parochial culture.
But as Gov. John Bel Edwards looks for his next superintendent, his options are limited by a little-known statute that precludes external candidates for the job, requiring that the next chief be chosen "from the ranks of sworn, commissioned State Police officers who have graduated from the State Police training academy."
The law has drawn scrutiny in law enforcement and state government circles following Edmonson's announcement Wednesday that he will step down at the end of this week after nine years at the helm of his agency.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the embattled State Police superintendent, announced his retirement from…
On the one hand, it simplifies the search and ensures that Edmonson's successor will be familiar with the inner workings of the State Police and the agency's policies on cooperation with local sheriffs and other law enforcement organizations.
Although not required by law, Louisiana governors for decades have tapped superintendents from the rank of captain and above — troopers who by then have attained a wide array of experience.
Ronnie Jones, a former deputy superintendent who teaches State Police history to cadets, said the statute requiring that superintendents be homegrown dates to the early 1980s, when Gov. Dave Treen was in office.
"There was a concern among the command staff at the time that a businessman without law enforcement experience might be appointed, or an attorney, a car salesman — anybody," said Jones, who now chairs the state Gaming Control Board.
At the same time, the statute in question, R.S. 36:405, significantly limits the pool of potential candidates, no matter how fit they might be to lead.
Before serving as the New Orleans police chief from 2010 to 2014, Ronal Serpas was recruited from the NOPD to lead the Washington State Patrol and, later, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department in Tennessee, despite having no history with either agency. He said he benefited in both positions from his role as an outsider, and, in an interview, he called the limitations on Louisiana State Police superintendents "a relic of a past time."
"The reason it's not the best solution is not because the department may not have great candidates," Serpas said. "But by limiting your view to only that agency, you miss all the other great candidates that may exist in the country."
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Coalition in New Orleans, voiced similar criticisms, saying the state law limits Edwards' ability to hire the most qualified person.
"The objective for any law enforcement agency is to hire the best available person, not just the best available person that works for that organization," Goyeneche said. "I've never heard of that type of obstacle. I think it shows how political the State Police have become."
Edwards plans this week to announce an interim superintendent who is widely expected to serve as a caretaker head while state authorities conduct a series of investigations into State Police travel practices.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday ordered an extensive audit of State Police travel practices…
Those inquiries, a few weeks underway, are focused in part on whether a group of high-ranking troopers committed payroll fraud last year when they charged taxpayers thousands of dollars in overtime — and made expensive overnight stays in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon — as they drove to a law enforcement conference in San Diego.
Separately, a number of troopers recently were served with federal subpoenas as part of a months-old FBI investigation into the Louisiana State Troopers Association. That investigation is believed to be focused, at least in part, on a series of unlawful campaign contributions the nonprofit group made to political candidates in 2014 and 2015.
The governor wants to avoid any further controversy in the selection of the next superintendent and to be sure his pick is not in any way implicated in the pending investigations, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with his thinking. As a result, the interim chief may be at the helm for several weeks, or even months, while the travel inquiries play out.
Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, Edmonson's chief of staff who oversees the agency's day-to-day operations, had long been considered the heir apparent, in line to become the next superintendent. But that could be altered by the investigations into the Las Vegas "side trip," which four troopers took using Dupuy's state-issued SUV.
Edmonson has insisted he did not authorize the troopers to charge overtime for the trip. An internal investigation is expected to determine which officials signed off on the Las Vegas excursion, which took the troopers hundreds of miles out of their way as they traveled to the October conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Several other names have emerged as candidates to succeed Edmonson, including high-ranking troopers like Lt. Cols. Adam White, David Staton and Murphy Paul.
Maj. Carl Saizan, who oversees State Police operations in New Orleans and has clashed with Edmonson, also is said to be in the running.
Edwards is believed to also be considering at least two high-ranking troopers from outside of headquarters: Maj. Kevin Reeves, who oversees State Police patrols north of Alexandria, and Maj. Beckett Breaux, the agency's command inspector for Acadiana and the Lake Charles area, among other parishes.
"We're determined to restore respect to this agency," one high-ranking trooper told The Advocate last week.
The Governor's Office is expected to release more details this week on the search for Edmonson's permanent successor. The next superintendent will be paid a salary approved by Edwards and state lawmakers.
Edmonson received a $43,000 pay raise in August, bringing his salary to $177,436. The position also comes with a state-assigned vehicle, as well as free housing at State Police headquarters.
Goyeneche said he hopes the next State Police chief will apply "the rules on the books to everyone in the organization equally."
"I think the travel issues are a little thing," he said. "It's what the public is focused on right now, but that was a symptom of a bigger problem."