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Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin W. Reeves addresses the crowd, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, during Louisiana State Police's 95th cadet class graduation ceremony in Baton Rouge, La.

The Louisiana State Police have known no shortage of scandals in the 81 years since the Legislature created an elite law enforcement agency initially modeled after FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover's crime-chasing "G-men."  

Over the decades, the statewide organization has weathered controversies over ticket quotas and troopers shaking down truck drivers. About 20 years ago, a federal judge forced the State Police to alter their entrance exam after the U.S. Justice Department accused the agency of discriminating against black applicants. Around the same time, a grand jury indicted Kenneth Delcambre, a former troop commander in Lake Charles, on charges he directed prisoners to cut the grass and perform other chores around his house. 

But those chapters, however embarrassing, pale in comparison to the maelstrom that has enveloped the agency over the past several months, a period of head-spinning revelations — and criminal allegations — that have eroded public trust in a force that has long prided itself on integrity and ferreting out corruption.

The problems started at the top and cascaded downward. Indeed, even the most loyal supporters of the State Police say they cannot recall a darker hour for the agency.  

Earlier this year, four troopers were disciplined for taking a lavish road trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas and billing taxpayers thousands of dollars for an excursion that violated state travel policy.

Just last month, the State Police suspended a highway traffic enforcement program and launched a criminal investigation into three troopers who appear to have claimed extra-duty hours they didn't work. That probe followed a series of investigative TV reports that caught troopers falsifying time sheets numerous times, including one who was paid a whopping $147,000 in overtime last year. 

But the coup de grâce came last week, when The Advocate reported that Mike Edmonson, the agency's former longtime superintendent, faces potential prosecution for deleting text messages from the Las Vegas trip and using State Police resources for personal gain.

A forthcoming legislative audit found Edmonson took repeated handouts throughout his nine-year tenure, ordered troopers to chauffeur his wife around the state, and lived rent-free and "without legal authority" at the Department of Public Safety compound, where inmate trusties served his family.  

The worst may be yet to come, with state and federal inquiries underway into not only Edmonson's activities but also those of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, a group that collects dues from troopers and whose stated mission is to act as a benevolent group to aid troopers.

"I've been around 35 years and nothing even approaches this state of affairs within State Police," said Rafael Goyeneche, a former prosecutor who is president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans watchdog organization that raised concerns about Edmonson for years. "This was a rot — not from the core, but from the top — and it was infiltrating down into the organization." 

State Police brass, including Col. Kevin Reeves, Edmonson's soft-spoken successor, are scrambling to contain a crisis in public confidence. While the controversies have differed in severity and shock value, they share a common theme of arrogance and abuse of power.

Perhaps the most troubling allegation is the agency's own finding that Edmonson deleted text messages from a trooper's phone to sabotage an internal investigation he himself had ordered into the detour troopers took to Las Vegas as they drove across the country to attend a law enforcement conference in California.

Taken together, the revelations underscore a question raised by WVUE-TV in its recent series that featured undercover footage of troopers shirking their duties and apparently lying for financial gain: Who will police the police?

Historically, the agency has been loath to subject itself to the scrutiny of outside law enforcement agencies. But in an unusual statement Friday, a State Police spokesman confirmed that the revelations about Edmonson have drawn the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baton Rouge. Sources said federal prosecutors could meet with state authorities as soon as this week to discuss the findings of the legislative audit.   

"We're at a point now where we have to ask ourselves — and we are asking ourselves — how did we get here?" Reeves said in an interview last week at State Police headquarters. "The first inclination, when something goes wrong, is to look for someone else to blame. But I think we're at a point where we need to look within ourselves and ask how did we contribute to where we're at as an agency, and once we identify that, how are we going to move forward."

Terry Landry, a state representative and former State Police superintendent, said one of the most important steps already has been taken in that Edmonson, who retired in March as the controversies brewed, has been replaced at the agency's helm. 

"The agency is rich in its traditions, and certainly, we stood on the shoulders of those people who went before us," Landry, D-New Iberia, said Saturday. "Superintendents are temporary occupants, but having the right person at the top, in a leadership position, is critical to regaining the trust of the public." 

Ronnie Jones, a former deputy superintendent who has taught State Police history to cadets, said he thinks most residents still believe that troopers hold true to the agency's slogan of "courtesy, loyalty and service."    

"It's not an overstatement to say that troopers save lives every day, and that's what they will continue to do regardless of who the colonel happens to be," Jones said. "The core values of the organization have prevailed, and the agency has survived every crisis." 

Reeves, the new superintendent, has traveled the state in recent months to meet with the command staffs of each troop, reinforcing professionalism and discussing the agency's plans for moving forward. 

"The way we present ourselves, the way we speak to the citizens we serve, the way we conduct our business and our investigations — I think that if we are professional in every aspect then we won't have all these problems in the future," he said. "If we're where we're supposed to be, doing what we're supposed to be doing ... it should never be a problem for someone to look into our activities."

Reeves said he has taken a number of measures to boost morale among the ranks and improve accountability, including changing the internal disciplinary process to include the input of deputy superintendents when an internal affairs complaint has been sustained.

Whereas the final decisions on trooper discipline once fell to Edmonson alone, Reeves has implemented a round-table approach in which he and his senior command staff consider these cases together.

"I don't have all the right answers, and I can't sit here and tell you that I know, in every disciplinary case, what the right thing to do is," Reeves said. "It also ensures that I cannot, in good faith, give one person discipline one way and have another employee who does virtually the same thing receive a harsher or lesser discipline."

Reeves' administration also is aggressively pursuing the purchase of an $11 million computer-aided dispatch system that would allow the agency to track the location of troopers in real time. At present, dispatchers are "completely dependent upon radio traffic," said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman.

One former Louisiana law enforcement official said he was astonished to learn the State Police had not yet acquired such a system, saying the technology is "as basic as handcuffs" and increasingly affordable.

Baton Rouge police, by contrast, use GPS to track the whereabouts of their officers — a tool that has been critical in a number of recent internal investigations. 

The lack of such a system appears to be among the reasons that state troopers have managed to exaggerate their hours without supervisors noticing they actually were at home when they claimed to be working. And it may also explain how Edmonson allegedly turned the State Police into his family's personal chauffeur service, ordering troopers to stop other duties to shuttle his wife to New Orleans bars or to entertainment venues across the state.

A computer-aided dispatch system, Reeves said, would not only enhance officer safety and allow for more efficient dispatching.  

"It will also hold us accountable," he said. "It would truly be a plus, and I would say it's a necessity for our agency." 


Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.