When Col. Lamar Davis took on the top state trooper leadership role two years ago, he acknowledged that his agency had significant challenges and he promised to be “purposeful moving forward.”
“My administration will be built on trust, externally and internally. I look forward to working daily on behalf of the men and women of the Department of Public Safety and the Louisiana State Police to ensure the safety of the citizens we serve,” he said in a statement the day he was appointed.
The challenges for Davis included working through years of questionable — and worse — law enforcement practices, some of which thrust the State Police into the national spotlight. Among the damning indicators was an in-depth review by The Associated Press showing that 67% of use-of-force incidents involved Black people, who make up about a third of the state's population.
Some incidents were recorded with body cameras and the video was deliberately stashed aside, away from those responsible for reviewing suspect and trooper interactions. Some involved beatings. One of the worst was the in-custody death of barber Ronald Greene, a Black man who was initially said to have died as a result of a single-car crash following a high-speed pursuit. Later, we learned that troopers brutally beat him before he died.
In September 2021, Davis said he welcomed a federal investigation to help determine what went wrong. Greene’s family and civil rights attorneys and advocates demanded that more be done. U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, added his voice. “I have no faith they are capable of policing themselves,” Carter said at the time.
Earlier this year, Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder appointed a group of eight legislators to review documents and information connected to Greene’s death.
In June, the U.S. Department of Justice started an investigation into Louisiana State Police to determine whether troopers have a pattern or practice of using excessive force, and whether there has been deliberate discrimination against Black motorists and other people of color.
Clearly the department is a long way from rebuilding trust and confidence.
Still, there are signs that things are starting to turn around. A recent informal report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that the number of officer misconduct allegations investigated annually by Louisiana State Police nearly doubled recently, from 97 in 2019 and 92 in 2020 up to 177 last year. The rise in investigations into use-of-force allegations is stark, from five in 2019 to 17 in 2020 and 22 in 2021.
An agency representative attributed the increase in part to changes made on Davis' watch, including a new policy allowing internal investigations to coincide with criminal investigations rather than being put on hold until cases are resolved.
The changes have led to “fundamental improvements to our operations, training and administration, including increased accountability at all levels of the agency,” agency spokesman Nick Manale said.
Though the report is based on requested information provided by the LSP, this is a sign of progress worth continuing.
We encourage the superintendent to keep working toward the goals he outlined at the start of his tenure. Meanwhile, we look forward to hearing more from the state legislative panel and federal investigators.