The chief of the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, and the state’s only Democrat elected to federal office all are open to, if not asking for, a U.S. Department of Justice “pattern or practice” review of the LSP. Bad idea, the data show, and politics may torpedo it in any event.
In July, the Caucus put in a formal request for DOJ to perform this, where the agency looks for a “pattern or practice” of action by a law enforcement agency that violates either constitutional protections or federal laws. It comprehensively evaluates the law enforcement agency’s written policies and actual practices, including its systems for training, equipping, and supervising officers; how it collects and uses data to identify and address problems; its systems for holding officers accountable for misconduct; and the degree of accountability to community voices and democratic government.
The request was spurred by media revelations of highly questionable LSP officer conduct in the traffic stop of Ronald Greene, a black motorist on the road in northeast Louisiana, that appears to have contributed to his death incident to an arrest. Other internal LSP documents also obtained through information requests revealed additional sketchy incidents over the past decade where allegedly excessive force was used.
Worse, evidence showed some administrators acted indifferently to their oversight duties while some front-line troopers appeared to engage in a pattern of obfuscation to hinder such review. Departmental records also show two-thirds of uses of force occurred against black suspects, a statistic along with the media revelation which caught the attention of black Democrat Rep. Troy Carter who joined the call for investigation; Carter as a New Orleans politician has seen this play out in the city that ended up with a consent decree covering its police department spurred by such a review.
LSP Commander Col. Lamar Davis, in addressing the controversy, averred he wouldn’t oppose such an investigation. However, he said he didn’t think agency problems rose to a level necessitating such an intervention and that a better strategy allowed for the agency to hire outside auditors.
The data back him on this. Researchers last year studied 27 such investigations, some of which were performed by state agencies, which they divided into 22 that had come about with little media attention and five triggered by a “viral event,” or an incident that received extensive legacy and social media scrutiny. For the 22, they discovered announcement of an investigation had no negative impact on the murder or crime rate in those jurisdictions.
However, the other five displayed strongly negative effects after announcement. Homicide and crime rates rose dramatically and without decline for a couple of years, at levels that would equate to nearly 1,000 additional homicides and almost 55,000 more total crimes in a jurisdiction with Louisiana’s population in that time span. Researchers attribute this to a significant decline in policing quantity out of fear by patrol officers and superiors that anything but passive policing would exacerbate accusations of constitutional violations.
The Greene death and the media publicity that followed, even if coming a year and more later, clearly mark this as a viral event. And although LSP activities differ somewhat from those standard at the local LEA level, the data indicate commencing a DOJ investigation likely would trigger a serious increase in crime on Louisiana byways and in the few areas the LSP directly polices – with consequences the authors note, for example, of more blacks dead from crime in just two years than of black suspects at the hands of police that occurred over the several previous decades.
Opening this kind of investigation of the LSP also would be a first for the DOJ. It never has conducted one on a state agency, although it did investigate territorial law enforcement in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Certainly, the disturbing revelations call for some kind of review to determine whether incidents of misconduct were isolated, but involving the DOJ would cause detrimental side effects. In the final analysis, the question may be moot for political reasons, because the Democrat Pres. Joe Biden Administration in conducting such an investigation might find a potential coverup of the Greene death going all the way to the top of the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration.