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Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves talks about the 36 Academy recruits of class 96 on the first day of a 20-week training program Sunday morning at the State Police Training facility.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Given the circumstances that led to a change in leadership at Louisiana State Police, the new colonel in charge is right to move quickly to investigate any evidence of misconduct.

In the latest development, Col. Kevin Reeves ordered suspension of a highway traffic enforcement program coordinated with local parishes because of questions about whether his troopers were billing for hours they did not actually work.

Reeves directed a full review of the program and opened a criminal investigation. Three troopers were placed on administrative leave after Reeves reviewed surveillance footage from WVUE in New Orleans.

The TV station's undercover footage, part of an investigative series, appears to show the three troopers "claiming hours for time they weren't working," said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman. Reeves ordered an internal affairs inquiry to begin after the criminal investigation is completed, Cain said.

"We're going to step back and look at the entire program, its policies and procedures, in an effort to ensure the oversight is effective," Cain said.

This doesn’t mean speeding is OK out there as we head into the holidays. Troopers will continue to enforce the law during their regular hours.

Reeves’ action involves a program known as Local Agency Compensated Enforcement, or LACE. Local district attorneys contract with State Police and reimburse the agency for hours and mileage claimed by troopers working extra-duty shifts and writing speeding tickets in jurisdictions around the state. The local jurisdictions keep the ticket money, which benefits public defender offices and other agencies.

We commend the superintendent for acting promptly to check into problems with the extra-duty billing.

Reeves was named colonel of State Police by Gov. John Bel Edwards, replacing Mike Edmonson, the longtime leader of the agency. Edmonson left after two senior troopers were determined to have improperly billed thousands of dollars for overtime and expenses for a road trip they took to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon while driving to a law enforcement conference in San Diego.

While Reeves has acted quickly on the LACE report, it is not the first time the program has raised questions. The state Inspector-General’s Office identified problems with the management of the program after an investigative report by Baton Rouge station WAFB that found about 30 percent of State Police overtime stemmed from LACE.

One of the troopers suspended this week was reported to have earned $80,000 in overtime in 2008.

Now that the program is on hold, the governor and lawmakers should explore the broader question of why state troopers should be acting as a lucrative revenue stream for local governments. There's probably a better way to fund local needs than hiring out state troopers as mercenaries.