After more than two decades with the Louisiana State Police — a career that spans various divisions from traffic patrols and intelligence gathering to policy research — Col. Lamar Davis was not expecting his recent promotion to superintendent, which comes at a time of turmoil within the agency and increased scrutiny of law enforcement nationwide.
Davis is acutely aware of that context. He looks to a higher power to explain his new role.
"This is God's plan," he said. "I'm not gonna question that."
Davis is the fourth African American superintendent in the history of State Police, including most recently Henry Whitehorn in 2004 and Stanley Griffin in 2007. Both were appointed under former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
State Police have come under fire in recent months for a series of missteps and controversies, including the death of Ronald Greene, a Black man who died in custody following a 2019 police chase. Federal authorities launched a civil rights investigation into the incident after Greene's relatives and attorneys presented evidence he was beaten to death.
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The last superintendent, Kevin Reeves, stepped down not long after news of that investigation came to light. He had served for three years in the top post.
On the same day Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that Davis would succeed Reeves, The Associated Press published a review of State Police records revealing more than a dozen recent instances in which employees forwarded racist emails on their official accounts with subject lines like "PROUD TO BE WHITE."
That wasn't the first time the agency faced allegations of racial hostilities within its ranks or pressure to diversify an overwhelmingly white male police force. Like many law enforcement agencies, State Police have long struggled to recruit women and people of color.
Davis said in an interview this month that he hopes his tenure will see an improved relationship between State Police and Black communities across Louisiana.
"I'm an African American. There's no secret about that," he said. "That's my mission — to make sure we take care of all our communities, keep everybody safe."
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A Baton Rouge native
Davis grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from Istrouma High School.
He got involved in ROTC during high school, when an injury temporarily sidelined him from sports. He said coming from a lower socioeconomic background propelled him to join the military and "see what the world had to offer."
That set him on a lifelong path of public service, Davis said.
After four years in the U.S. Army, including serving overseas, Davis returned home to Baton Rouge, got married and enrolled at Southern University. He didn't immediately jump into law enforcement work, he said, in part because his own past experiences with the police were not all positive — though he declined to give specifics.
But he dipped his toe into the profession as a reserve deputy with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and state corrections officer, before joining State Police in 1998. Davis said those experiences helped him see law enforcement in a different light.
Davis and his wife still live in the Baton Rouge area. They have a son, who's a student at McNeese State University. Davis said his hobbies include exercising and spending time with his family, then joked that cutting the grass is his therapy.
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Diverse experiences at LSP
As a state trooper, Davis has served in a wide range of positions within the agency, choosing movement over stagnation throughout his career.
"If I stay somewhere too long, then I begin to ask questions that maybe I shouldn't be asking," he said with a chuckle. "Learning has always been a trademark of mine. It allows me to grow, and when I'm growing I feel like I'm being more productive."
He has worked patrolling state highways, investigating homicides as a detective, enforcing gaming and casino regulations, conducting policy research and working with state lawmakers as a legislative liaison. Several Democratic legislators have praised his appointment and expressed optimism for the future of State Police.
Most recently Davis oversaw the business and technology section.
Moving from one division to the next has given him a strong understanding of how the agency operates, Davis said, though he never expected to land at the top — "never in a million years."
Officials said Davis was recently chosen over about 15 higher-ranked majors and lieutenant colonels.
He asked the public, including critics of State Police, to be patient and give him time to evaluate programs, policies and practices, then make changes where he sees room for improvement.
When Edwards introduced Davis during a recent news conference, the governor praised his "extensive background in all things military and law enforcement," saying those accomplishments as a soldier made Davis a stronger candidate.
State Police officials declined to make any other troopers available to comment on their experiences working alongside Davis over the years, saying they would prefer to keep the focus of this story on his new role and plans moving forward.
Three years ago, the Louisiana State Police Commission received a dire warning from a trooper who claimed that racial hostilities had reached …
Longtime military service
After serving in the Army full time for four years, Davis later joined the Louisiana National Guard, where he reached the rank of Command Sergeant Major — the highest enlisted rank in the Army — before retiring from there in 2008.
His service in the National Guard included a deployment to Iraq in 2005, when he helped oversee hundreds of troops.
First Sergeant Micki Bryant, who was part of that mission, said Davis demonstrated a quiet brand of leadership that earned him the unwavering respect of his subordinates.
"One thing I always remembered about him, he knew everybody's first name," she said. "He is that kind of guy … someone that shows genuine care and concern."
Bryant said she still sometimes asks herself what Davis might do in certain situations she faces at work, a testament to his long-standing ability to lead by example.
"I remember certain attributes of his leadership that I use as a guide," she said. "Whether he knows it or not, he's still mentoring me and guiding me throughout my career."